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Using auxiliary information to improve wildlife disease surveillance when infected animals are not detected: a Bayesian approach

March 31, 2014

There are numerous situations in which it is important to determine whether a particular disease of interest is present in a free-ranging wildlife population. However adequate disease surveillance can be labor-intensive and expensive and thus there is substantial motivation to conduct it as efficiently as possible. Surveillance is often based on the assumption of a simple random sample, but this can almost always be improved upon if there is auxiliary information available about disease risk factors. We present a Bayesian approach to disease surveillance when auxiliary risk information is available which will usually allow for substantial improvements over simple random sampling. Others have employed risk weights in surveillance, but this can result in overly optimistic statements regarding freedom from disease due to not accounting for the uncertainty in the auxiliary information; our approach remedies this. We compare our Bayesian approach to a published example of risk weights applied to chronic wasting disease in deer in Colorado, and we also present calculations to examine when uncertainty in the auxiliary information has a serious impact on the risk weights approach. Our approach allows “apples-to-apples” comparisons of surveillance efficiencies between units where heterogeneous samples were collected

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