PLOS ONE, March 28, 2019

Enny S. Paixão, Oona M. R. Campbell, Laura C. Rodrigues, Maria Glória Teixeira, Maria da Conceição N. Costa, Elizabeth B. Brickley, Katie Harron


Linking routinely-collected data provides an opportunity to measure the effects of exposures that occur before birth on maternal, fetal and infant outcomes. High quality linkage is a prerequisite for producing reliable results, and there are specific challenges in mother-baby linkage. Using population-based administrative databases from Brazil, this study aimed to estimate the accuracy of linkage between maternal deaths and birth outcomes and dengue notifications, and to identify potential sources of bias when assessing the risk of maternal death due to dengue in pregnancy.

We identified women with dengue during pregnancy in a previously linked dataset of dengue notifications in women who had experienced a live birth or stillbirth during 2007–2012. We then linked this dataset with maternal death records probabilistically using maternal name, age and municipality. We estimated the accuracy of the linkage, and examined the characteristics of false-matches and missed-matches to identify any sources of bias.

Of the 10,259 maternal deaths recorded in 2007–2012, 6717 were linked: 5444 to a live birth record, 1306 to a stillbirth record, and 33 to both a live and stillbirth record. After identifying 2620 missed-matches and 124 false-matches, our estimated sensitivity was 72%, specificity was 88%, and positive predictive value was 98%. Linkage errors were associated with maternal education and self-identified race; women with more than 7 years of education or who self-declared as Caucasian were more likely to link. Dengue status was not associated with linkage error.

Despite not having unique identifiers to link mothers and birth outcomes, we demonstrated a high standard of linkage, with sensitivity and specificity values comparable to previous literature. Although there were no differences in the characteristics of dengue cases missed or included in our linked dataset, linkage error occurred disproportionally by some social-demographic characteristics, which should be taken into account in future analyses.

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