The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has established a syndromic surveillance system that monitors emergency department visits to detect disease outbreaks early. Routinely collected chief complaint information is transmitted electronically to the health department daily and analyzed for temporal and spatial aberrations. Respiratory, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting are the key syndromes analyzed. Statistically significant aberrations or "signals" are investigated to determine their public health importance. In the first year of operation (November 15, 2001, to November 14, 2002), 2.5 million visits were reported from 39 participating emergency departments, covering an estimated 75% of annual visits. Most signals for the respiratory and fever syndromes (64% and 95%, respectively) occurred during periods of peak influenza A and B activity. Eighty-three percent of the signals for diarrhea and 88% of the signals for vomiting occurred during periods of suspected norovirus and rotavirus transmission.