Balancing Data Provision and Data Protection: A Natural Experiment With HIV and Syphilis Surveillance Data in the United States

Chris Delcher, Yanning Wang, Amanda V. Gusovsky, Joseph Benitez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Public release of health data typically requires statistical disclosure limitation (SDL), but scant research demonstrates how real-world SDL affects data usability. Recent changes of federal data re-release policy allow a pseudo-counterfactual comparison of HIV and syphilis data suppression rules. Methods Incident counts (2019) of HIV and syphilis infections by county for Black and White populations were downloaded from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We quantified and compared suppression status by disease and county between Black and White populations and calculated incident rate ratios for counties with statistically reliable counts. Results Approximately 50% of US counties have incident HIV counts suppressed for Black and White populations compared with only 5% for syphilis, which has an alternative suppression strategy. The county population sizes protected by a numerator disclosure rule (<4) spans several orders of magnitude. Calculations of incident rate ratios, used as a measure of health disparity, were impossible in the 220 counties most susceptible to an HIV outbreak. Conclusions Balancing tradeoffs between providing and protecting data are key to health initiatives worldwide. We encourage an increase in empirical research on the impact of SDL, especially in the context of health disparities, and recommend new approaches to avoid the "oppression of data suppression."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-489
Number of pages5
JournalSexually Transmitted Diseases
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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