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Monday, January 23, 2012

Cloudy With a Chance of Contagion: Forecasting Station Set Up to Monitor Epidemics and Infectious Diseases

Original Article

We are all aware that medicine is an imperfect art, and forecasting disease outbreaks is an inexact science.

Because epidemics and pandemics can occur suddenly and without warning, a nation’s medical infrastructure can quickly become inundated with the sick, thus causing the contagious illness to further infect and spread throughout the country. That being said, scientists have developed a groundbreaking forecasting system to track infectious diseases in order to keep the general public abreast of any threatening epidemics.

This forecasting station, modeled after our current weather forecasting system, has been designed to flag potential infectious diseases that could overwhelm the country and possibly collapse the fragile medical infrastructure the population is so dependent on.

This bio-surveillance project is operated by Praecipio International, a non-profit international intercept team who is presently working in conjunction with The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System to anticipate infectious disease outbreaks that arise from natural disasters on a global spectrum. Praecipio International is responsible for using the Haiti Epidemic Advisory System (HEAS) to track the cholera epidemic in Haiti where the epidemic is still a daily battle.
 

The scientists at Praecipio International are “more akin to disaster sociology than public health, and monitor social indicators of infectious disease crises and disasters.”  Shortly after the earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2011:
Praecipio was able to rapidly conduct a “radar sweep” using the Internet and by monitoring Twitter feeds across 6 languages for the island of Hispaniola, which includes the countries of Haiti and Dominican Republic. We knew instantly from media, blogs, and SMS traffic what was being documented in terms of infectious disease. Consultation with peer-reviewed academic literature enabled us to construct a baseline for several diseases of concern and issue the first infectious disease forecast report in the world, for Haiti, on January 17, 2010.
Source
As previously noted, cholera and other disaster related diseases are still a daily issue in Haiti even one year after the devastating earthquake leveled most of  the small island. With Haiti being the first country in the world to monitor epidemic activity, they have an upper hand to proactively intervene in order to control the outbreaks and epidemics from exacerbating. This forecasting model is serving as a guideline for the rest of the world.  Hospitals and treatment facilities are already beginning to adopt this forecasting system in order to assist with patients who are more susceptible to outbreaks. The Delta County Memorial Hospital “Kids Wellcast”, is one of the first to understand the importance of this biosurveillance system.

HEAS has quickly become the first of it’s kind to empower patients with information to help them stay better prepared. Further, having a forecasting system that monitors infectious disease outbreaks will propel us out of ”dark ages” in terms of epidemics and pandemics. Rather than reacting to the outbreak and potentially subjecting ourselves to others who may be infected, we will be able to anticipate the infectious disease ahead of time in order to better prepare for it.




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