Introduction: While influenza and other respiratory pathogens cause significant morbidity and mortality, the community-based burden of these infections remains incompletely understood. The development of novel methods to detect respiratory infections is essential for mitigating epidemics and developing pandemic-preparedness infrastructure.
Methods: From October 2019 to March 2020, we conducted a home-based cross-sectional study in the greater Seattle area, utilizing electronic consent and data collection instruments. Participants received nasal swab collection kits via rapid delivery within 24 hours of self-reporting respiratory symptoms. Samples were returned to the laboratory and were screened for 26 respiratory pathogens and a human marker. Participant data were recorded via online survey at the time of sample collection and one week later.
Results: Of the 4,572 consented participants, 4,359 (95.3%) received a home swab kit, and 3,648 (83.7%) returned a nasal specimen for respiratory pathogen screening. The 3,638 testable samples had a mean RNase P CRT value of 19.0 (SD: 3.4) and 1,232 (33.9%) samples had positive results for one or more pathogens, including 645 (17.7%) influenza-positive specimens. Among the testable samples, the median time between shipment of the home swab kit and completion of laboratory testing was 8 days [IQR: 7.0-14.0].
Discussion: Home-based surveillance using online participant enrollment and specimen self-collection is a feasible method for community-level monitoring of influenza and other respiratory pathogens, which can readily be adapted for use during pandemics.