Should Controls With Respiratory Symptoms Be Excluded From Case-Control Studies of Pneumonia Etiology? Reflections From the PERCH Study.
Higdon MM., Hammitt LL., Deloria Knoll M., Baggett HC., Brooks WA., Howie SRC., Kotloff KL., Levine OS., Madhi SA., Murdoch DR., Scott JAG., Thea DM., Driscoll AJ., Karron RA., Park DE., Prosperi C., Zeger SL., O'Brien KL., Feikin DR., PERCH Study Group None.
Many pneumonia etiology case-control studies exclude controls with respiratory illness from enrollment or analyses. Herein we argue that selecting controls regardless of respiratory symptoms provides the least biased estimates of pneumonia etiology. We review 3 reasons investigators may choose to exclude controls with respiratory symptoms in light of epidemiologic principles of control selection and present data from the Pneumonia Etiology Research for Child Health (PERCH) study where relevant to assess their validity. We conclude that exclusion of controls with respiratory symptoms will result in biased estimates of etiology. Randomly selected community controls, with or without respiratory symptoms, as long as they do not meet the criteria for case-defining pneumonia, are most representative of the general population from which cases arose and the least subject to selection bias.