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Search strings for study of putative occupational determinants of disease
  1. Stefano Mattioli1,
  2. Francesca Zanardi2,
  3. Alberto Baldasseroni3,
  4. Frederieke Schaafsma4,
  5. Robin MT Cooke1,
  6. Gianpiero Mancini5,
  7. Mauro Fierro1,
  8. Chiara Santangelo2,
  9. Andrea Farioli1,
  10. Serenella Fucksia2,
  11. Stefania Curti1,
  12. Francesco S Violante1,*,
  13. Jos Verbeek6
  1. 1 University of Bologna, Occupational Medicine Unit, S.Orsola-Malpighi Hospital, Bologna, Italy;
  2. 2 University of Bologna, School of Occupational Medicine, Bologna, Italy;
  3. 3 CeRIMP (Tuscany Regional Centre for Occupational Injuries and Diseases), Florence, Italy;
  4. 4 Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, Netherlands;
  5. 5 Department of Prevention, Azienda USL di Ravenna, Ravenna, Italy;
  6. 6 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Cochrane Occupational Health Field, Kuopio, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: Francesco Saverio Violante, Unit of Occupational Medicine, University of Bologna, Via Pelagio Palagi, 9, Bologna, 40138, Italy; francesco.violante{at}


Objective: To identify efficient PubMed search strategies to retrieve articles regarding putative occupational determinants of conditions not generally considered to be work-related.

Methods: Based on Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) definitions and expert knowledge, we selected as candidate search terms the four MeSH terms describing “occupational disease”, “occupational exposure”, “occupational health” and “occupational medicine” (DEHM) alongside 22 other promising terms. We first explored overlaps between the candidate terms in PubMed. Using random samples of abstracts retrieved by each term, we estimated proportions of articles containing potentially pertinent information regarding occupational aetiology in order to formulate two search strategies (one more “specific”, one more “sensitive”). We applied these strategies to retrieve information on possible occupational aetiology of meningioma, pancreatitis, and atrial fibrillation.

Results: Only 20.3% abstracts were retrieved by more than one DEHM term. The more “specific” search string was based on the combination of terms that yielded the highest proportion (40%) of potentially pertinent abstracts. The more “sensitive” string was based on use of broader search fields and additional coverage provided by other search terms under study. Using the specific string, the numbers of abstracts needed to read to find one potentially pertinent article were: 1.2 for meningioma; 1.9 for pancreatitis; 1.8 for atrial fibrillation. Using the sensitive strategy, the numbers needed to read were 4.4 for meningioma; 8.9 for pancreatitis; 10.5 for atrial fibrillation.

Conclusions: The proposed strings could help health care professionals explore putative occupational aetiology for diseases that are not generally thought to be work-related.

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      BMJ Publishing Group Ltd