Sample size considerations using mathematical models: an example with Chlamydia trachomatis infection and its sequelae pelvic inflammatory disease.

Herzog, Sereina A; Low, Nicola; Berghold, Andrea (2015). Sample size considerations using mathematical models: an example with Chlamydia trachomatis infection and its sequelae pelvic inflammatory disease. BMC infectious diseases, 15, p. 233. BioMed Central 10.1186/s12879-015-0953-5

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The success of an intervention to prevent the complications of an infection is influenced by the natural history of the infection. Assumptions about the temporal relationship between infection and the development of sequelae can affect the predicted effect size of an intervention and the sample size calculation. This study investigates how a mathematical model can be used to inform sample size calculations for a randomised controlled trial (RCT) using the example of Chlamydia trachomatis infection and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).


We used a compartmental model to imitate the structure of a published RCT. We considered three different processes for the timing of PID development, in relation to the initial C. trachomatis infection: immediate, constant throughout, or at the end of the infectious period. For each process we assumed that, of all women infected, the same fraction would develop PID in the absence of an intervention. We examined two sets of assumptions used to calculate the sample size in a published RCT that investigated the effect of chlamydia screening on PID incidence. We also investigated the influence of the natural history parameters of chlamydia on the required sample size.


The assumed event rates and effect sizes used for the sample size calculation implicitly determined the temporal relationship between chlamydia infection and PID in the model. Even small changes in the assumed PID incidence and relative risk (RR) led to considerable differences in the hypothesised mechanism of PID development. The RR and the sample size needed per group also depend on the natural history parameters of chlamydia.


Mathematical modelling helps to understand the temporal relationship between an infection and its sequelae and can show how uncertainties about natural history parameters affect sample size calculations when planning a RCT.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM)

UniBE Contributor:

Low, Nicola


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services




BioMed Central




Doris Kopp Heim

Date Deposited:

12 Aug 2015 13:54

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:48

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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