We measured the recall error, optimal recall length and factors associated with diarrhoea in a weekly survey. Data was taken from a year-long randomized controlled trial in which characteristics of diarrhoeal episodes were recorded weekly. We labelled the recall period as days 1–6; day 1 being the day before the visit. Recall error was the percentage difference between the number of episodes reported to begin on a particular day and the mean for days 1 and 2. Generalized estimating equations were used to determine associations. Recall error was 37% on day 3 and 51% on day 5. The error was less in younger children (by 10%), severe episodes (by 29%) and when blood was present in the stool (by 18%). Diarrhoea was underreported when the recall period extended beyond 2 days. Surveys that use longer recall periods risk underestimating diarrhoea incidence and selectively capturing more severe episodes.
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