Background: Household contact with an index case of an infectious disease is a known risk factor for infection transmission. However, such contact may be underestimated due to the dynamic nature of households, particularly in longitudinal studies. Such studies generally begin with contact defined at a single point in time ('snap-shot'), leading to contact misclassification for some individuals who actually experienced contact before and after the snapshot. Objective: To quantify contact misclassification with index cases of disease in households. Methods: Historical data of 112,026 individuals from 17,889 households from an epidemiological study on leprosy in northern Malawi were used. Individuals were interviewed in the early 1980s and followed up over 5 years. It was possible to trace whether individuals died, changed household within the area, or moved out of the area between the two surveys. Using a 10% sample of households as the starting population and parameters for demographic and household changes over 5 years, the extent of contact misclassification was estimated through a simulation model of household dynamics, which traced contact with index cases in households over time. The model thereafter compared initial contact status and 'true' contact status generated from simulations. Results: The starting population had 11,401 individuals, 52% female, and 224 (2%) leprosy index cases. Eleven percent of the households had at least one index case resident and 10% (1177) of non-case individuals were initial contacts. Sensitivity of initial contact status ranged from 0.52 to 0.74 and varied by age and sex. Sensitivity was low in those aged 20-29 and under 5 years but high in 5- to 14-year-olds. By gender, there were no differences among those aged under 5; females had lower sensitivity among those aged under 20 and higher for those above 30, respectively. Sensitivity was also low in simulations of long incubation periods. Conclusion: This work demonstrates the implications of changes in households on household contact-associated disease spread, particularly for long durations of follow-up and infections with long incubation periods where earlier unobserved contact is critical.
Chirwa, T.; Floyd, S.; Fine, P. Estimating the extent of household contact misclassification with index cases of disease in longitudinal studies using a stochastic simulation model. Global Health Action (2013) 6: 19614. [DOI: 10.3402/gha.v6i0.19614]