Developments in statistical inference when assessing spatiotemporal disease clustering with the tau statistic
Pollington TM., Tildesley MJ., Hollingsworth TD., Chapman LAC.
© 2020 The Author(s) The tau statistic τ uses geolocation and, usually, symptom onset time to assess global spatiotemporal clustering from epidemiological data. We test different methods that could bias the clustering range estimate based on the statistic or affect its apparent precision, by comparison with a baseline analysis of an open access measles dataset. From re-analysing this data we find evidence against no clustering and no inhibition, p-value∈[0,0⋅022] (global envelope test). We develop a tau-specific modification of the Loh & Stein spatial bootstrap sampling method, which gives bootstrap tau estimates with 24% lower sampling error and a 110% higher estimated clustering endpoint than previously published (61⋅0 m vs. 29 m) and an equivalent increase in the clustering area of elevated disease odds by 342%. These differences could have important consequences for control efforts. Correct practice of graphical hypothesis testing of no clustering and clustering range estimation of the tau statistic are illustrated in the online Graphical abstract. We advocate proper implementation of this useful statistic, ultimately to reduce inaccuracies in control policy decisions made during disease clustering analysis.