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BACKGROUND: Refugees may have an increased vulnerability to infectious diseases, and the consequences of an outbreak are more severe in a refugee camp. When an outbreak is suspected, access to clinical information is critical for investigators to verify that an outbreak is occurring, to determine the cause and to select interventions to control it. Experience from previous outbreaks suggests that the accuracy and completeness of this information is poor. This study is the first to assess the adequacy of clinical characterisation of acute medical illnesses in refugee camps. The objective is to direct improvements in outbreak identification and management in this vulnerable setting. METHODS: We collected prospective data in 13 refugee camps in Greece. We passively observed consultations where patients presented with syndromes that might warrant inclusion into an existing syndromic surveillance system and then undertook a structured assessment of routine clinical data collection to examine the extent to which key clinical parameters required for an outbreak response were ascertained and then documented. RESULTS: A total of 528 patient consultations were included. The most common presenting condition was an acute respiratory illness. Clinicians often made a comprehensive clinical assessment, especially for common syndromes of respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions, but documented their findings less frequently. For fewer than 5% of patients were a full set of vital signs ascertained and so the severity of patient illnesses was largely unknown. In only 11% of consultations was it verified that a patient who met the case criteria for syndromic surveillance reporting based on an independent assessment was reported into the system. DISCUSSION: Opportunities exist to strengthen clinical data capture and recording in refugee camps, which will produce a better calibrated and directed public health response. CONCLUSION: Information of significant utility for outbreak response is collected at the clinical interface and we recommend improving how this information is recorded and linked into surveillance systems.

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Epidemic, Infectious disease, Outbreak, Refugee, Syndromic surveillance, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Child, Child, Preschool, Communicable Diseases, Disease Outbreaks, Greece, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Middle Aged, Prospective Studies, Refugee Camps, Refugees, Young Adult