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Meningococcal disease surveillance in most countries is based upon a combination of statutory notification systems and laboratory reporting, both of which are recognised to underestimate the true burden of disease. The incidence of meningococcal disease varies throughout Europe, and although there are many reasons for this, it is important to quantify the degree of under-ascertainment in order to validate international comparisons. Here, we review the literature on the ascertainment of meningococcal disease in Europe and the available methods for estimating the degree of under-reporting. We found that the sensitivity of surveillance varies between countries and over time, with estimates ranging from 40% to 96%. We identified five methods suitable for conducting ascertainment studies, from simple comparative studies to more complicated capture-recapture and regression analyses. Studies of ascertainment may be used to identify weaknesses and biases in surveillance data, and facilitate the improvement of these systems. These findings are relevant to the surveillance of other infectious diseases, particularly those with lower mortality and a lower public profile than meningococcal disease, for which ascertainment may be worse.


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