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What factors influence symptom reporting during an emerging infectious disease outbreak? A rapid review of the evidence

Publication date: 

16 Aug 2021


Health Security 2021


Carter P, Megnin-Viggars O, Rubin GJ

Publication type: 



Abstract During any emerging infectious disease outbreak, people with symptoms of the illness are asked to report to a health service immediately to facilitate contact tracing. Several factors may influence a person's willingness to report symptoms and their ability to access healthcare services. Understanding these factors has become urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. To determine which factors influence symptom reporting during an emerging infectious disease outbreak, we conducted a rapid review of the evidence. Studies included in the review were based on primary research, published in a peer-reviewed journal, written in English, included factors associated with symptom reporting or accessing healthcare, and were related to a major public health incident involving an infectious disease outbreak. Five themes were identified as facilitators of symptom reporting or accessing healthcare: accurate and informative communication about the disease and the need to seek help, symptom severity, concern about disease exposure, ease of access to healthcare facilities, and relationship with the healthcare provider. Seven themes were identified as barriers to symptom reporting or accessing healthcare: lack of knowledge of the disease and its treatment, fear of the disease and fear of subsequent treatments or requirements, stigmatization attached to having a disease, invasion of privacy, low concern about symptoms, economic consequences of disease diagnosis, and challenges related to attending a healthcare facility. For contract tracing services to be effective, members of the public need to have the capability, opportunity, and motivation to use them. The themes identified should be used to evaluate information provided to the public to ensure as many people as possible with relevant symptoms report them to a healthcare provider.