Australia’s active hospital-based surveillance for severe childhood disease


Principal investigator 

Dr Philip Britton

Encephalitis is a complex neurological syndrome caused by inflammation of the brain. Children are among those most severely affected. However, there is limited knowledge about the causes of encephalitis in children worldwide and a cause is not found in up to 70% of cases using routine testing.

Australia has unique viruses and other infectious agents that potentially cause encephalitis. There is also increasing awareness of immune-mediated causes of encephalitis, but these have not been systematically studied in children.

The Australian Childhood Encephalitis study, led by Professor Cheryl Jones and Dr Philip Britton, aims to describe the causes, clinical features and consequences of this severe disease among Australian children.

A 6-month pilot of surveillance for this complex condition began in 2013 at The Children's Hospital at Westmead site only, with roll-out to other states from early 2014. To date, this study has shown considerable success in better understanding acute encephalitis and its causes as well as demonstrating the effectiveness of syndromic surveillance using the PAEDS system in identifying outbreaks related to emerging infectious diseases in children.