BACKGROUND: A better understanding of the influenza epidemiology among primary care workers could guide future recommendations to prevent transmission in primary care practices . Therefore, we designed a pilot study to assess the feasibility of using a work-based online influenza surveillance system among primary care workers . Such an approach is of particular relevance in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as its findings could apply to other infectious diseases with similar mechanisms of transmission .
OBJECTIVE: This study aims to determine the feasibility of using a work-based online influenza surveillance system for primary care workers in Switzerland .
METHODS: Physicians and staff of one walk-in clinic and two selected primary care practices were enrolled in this observational prospective pilot study during the 2017-2018 influenza season . They were invited to record symptoms of influenza-like illness in a weekly online survey sent by email and to self-collect a nasopharyngeal swab in case any symptoms were recorded . Samples were tested by real-time polymerase chain reaction for influenza A, influenza B, and a panel of respiratory pathogens .
RESULTS: Among 67 eligible staff members, 58% (n=39) consented to the study and 53% (n=36) provided data . From the time all participants were included, the weekly survey response rate stayed close to 100% until the end of the study . Of 79 symptomatic episodes (mean 2.2 episodes per participant), 10 episodes in 7 participants fitted the definition of an influenza-like illness case (attack rate : 7/36 , 19 %). One swab tested positive for influenza A H1N1 (attack rate : 3% , 95% CI 0% -18 %). Swabbing was considered relatively easy .
CONCLUSIONS: A work-based online influenza surveillance system is feasible for use among primary care workers. This promising methodology could be broadly used in future studies to improve the understanding of influenza epidemiology and other diseases such as COVID-19 . This could prove to be highly useful in primary care settings and guide future recommendations to prevent transmission . A larger study will also help to assess asymptomatic infections.