Public health surveillance continues to broaden in scope and intensity. Public health professionals responsible for conducting such surveillance must keep pace with evolving methodologies, models, business rules, policies, roles, and procedures. The third annual Syndromic Surveillance Conference was held in Boston, Massachusetts, during November 3-4, 2004. The conference was attended by 440 persons representing the public health, academic, and private-sector communities from 10 countries and provided a forum for scientific discourse and interaction regarding multiple aspects of public health surveillance. The conference was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, CDC, Tufts Health Care Institute, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and organized by a Scientific Program Planning Committee; members of the committee are listed at http://www.syndromic.org/syndromicconference/2004/course_book/TAB_2.pdf.
During the conference, 134 presentations were given, including 18 at plenary sessions, 60 oral presentations, and 56 poster presentations. The entire list of presentations is available at http://www.syndromic.org/syndromicconference/2004/course_book/TAB_1.pdf.
After the conference, an editorial committee was formed, consisting of members of the planning committee. The board conducted a peer-review process to select abstracts and manuscripts for publication. A total of 36 abstracts and 45 manuscripts were submitted. Each submission was evaluated, scored according to preset criteria by at least two reviewers, and discussed by members of the committee. Time and resource limitations precluded inclusion of all submissions for publication. The manuscripts and abstracts contained in this supplement represent a sampling of the relevant topics and perspectives for this complex subject area. The manuscripts are categorized into five content areas: 1) overview, policy, and systems; 2) data sources; 3) analytic methods; 4) simulation and other evaluation approaches; and 5) practice and experience.
During the conference, a session was held to discuss the possible formation of a professional society to advance the field of disease surveillance. This nonprofit entity will be incorporated to advance the science of surveillance. Identified proposed functions include serving as the institutional home of the annual conference, maintaining and expanding a website, and coordinating work groups to advance specific scientific projects. Interest in this new society reflects the importance of this field and the requirement for communication in operational surveillance. A more formalized social basis for focus in the field and adaptive business rules might permit 1) increased integration among the needed scientific cultures and disciplines; 2) maturation of approaches to surveillance methods, technology, standards, and evaluation; 3) increased interaction and more productive partnerships between the respective public health level roles; and 4) outreach to integrate perspectives and operational realities for public health that include not only infectious disease and biologic terrorism preparedness and response but also counterterrorism and national security concerns. Finally, such a society might provide a forum for consolidation of a much-needed professional peer group and network for surveillance system operators and data monitors. More discussion of this topic will take place at the 2005 Syndromic Surveillance Conference, which will be held in Seattle, Washington, during September 13--15, 2005.
The program committee, editorial committee, and the editorial staff of MMWR all deserve recognition for their work in organizing the conference and preparing these proceedings. Special thanks are given to Haobo Ma, MD, MS, BioSense Program, National Center for Public Health Informatics, CDC, who coordinated the preparation of these reports.
--- Henry R. Rolka, Chair, Editorial Committee
National Center for Public Health Informatics, CDC