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Adjusting for time of infection or positive test when estimating the risk of a post-infection outcome in an epidemic.

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Overton, Christopher E 
Pascall, David J 
Presanis, Anne M 


When comparing the risk of a post-infection binary outcome, for example, hospitalisation, for two variants of an infectious pathogen, it is important to adjust for calendar time of infection. Typically, the infection time is unknown and positive test time used as a proxy for it. Positive test time may also be used when assessing how risk of the outcome changes over calendar time. We show that if time from infection to positive test is correlated with the outcome, the risk conditional on positive test time is a function of the trajectory of infection incidence. Hence, a risk ratio adjusted for positive test time can be quite different from the risk ratio adjusted for infection time. We propose a simple sensitivity analysis that indicates how risk ratios adjusted for positive test time and infection time may differ. This involves adjusting for a shifted positive test time, shifted to make the difference between it and infection time uncorrelated with the outcome. We illustrate this method by reanalysing published results on the relative risk of hospitalisation following infection with the Alpha versus pre-existing variants of SARS-CoV-2. Results indicate the relative risk adjusted for infection time may be lower than that adjusted for positive test time.



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Stat Methods Med Res

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SAGE Publications
MRC (via University of Warwick) (MR/V038613/1)
National Institute for Health Research (IS-BRC-1215-20014)
NIHR, Royal Society