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Detecting and quantifying changes in growth rates of infectious diseases is vital to informing public health strategy and can inform policymakers' rationale for implementing or continuing interventions aimed at reducing impact. Substantial changes in SARS-CoV-2 prevalence with emergence of variants provides opportunity to investigate different methods to do this. We included PCR results from all participants in the UK's COVID-19 Infection Survey between August 2020-June 2022. Change-points for growth rates were identified using iterative sequential regression (ISR) and second derivatives of generalised additive models (GAMs). Consistency between methods and timeliness of detection were compared. Of 8,799,079 visits, 147,278 (1.7%) were PCR-positive. Change-points associated with emergence of major variants were estimated to occur a median 4 days earlier (IQR 0-8) in GAMs versus ISR. When estimating recent change-points using successive data periods, four change-points (4/96) identified by GAMs were not found when adding later data or by ISR. Change-points were detected 3-5 weeks after they occurred in both methods but could be detected earlier within specific subgroups. Change-points in growth rates of SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in near real-time using ISR and second derivatives of GAMs. To increase certainty about changes in epidemic trajectories both methods could be run in parallel.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Epidemiol

Publication Date



Change-point detection, Community surveillance, Real-time monitoring, SARS-CoV-2 infection