The Centers for Disease Control's Study on the Efficacy of Nosocomial Infection Control (SENIC) showed that infection surveillance and control activities are associated with a decrease in nosocomial infection rates. Moreover, the intensity of activity correlated with the magnitude of the fall in infection rates. These results, plus the guidelines of regulatory agencies, mandate that infection control programs conduct surveillance activities. However, absolute standards for the content and nature of surveillance programs have not been established, and many descriptions of different types of surveillance programs are available. In this primer, we describe the considerations involved in development of a surveillance program with emphasis on issues concerning data collection.
Langmuir considers surveillance when applied to disease as meaning the collection of data, the analysis of those data, and the distribution of the resulting information to those needing to know. The definition implies that surveillance is observational and that surveillance activities should be clearly separated from other related activities such as control measures. The latter activities, including their initiation, approval, and funding, are administrative matters underpinned by a scientific base that are undertaken by the recipients of the surveillance data and their analyses. They should be clearly separated from surveillance activities per se. There is also the implication that action results from surveillance; surveillance without action should be abandoned.