The New Republic Looks at Need for Emerging Disease Surveillance
An integrated global surveillance system to track emerging diseases could have identified severe acute respiratory syndrome in its early stages, according to an article in The New Republic. The model for this type of system has been in use for more than 50 years as part of the World Health Organization's global tracking system for flu and polio data, The New Republic reports. The systems rely on "integrated surveillance" -- a network that connects labs, doctors, researchers and field workers worldwide. For example, flu and polio centers throughout the world continue to collect data "with meticulous precision," while an Internet server compiles flu reports to predict the year's flu strains, The New Republic reports. The key to identifying new outbreaks is to collect "syndromic" data, something polio experts began doing in the 1960s, according to Dr. Cyrus Hopkins, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Syndromic monitoring stresses that health workers report patient symptoms so that researchers can analyze the data for new disease patterns and could help researchers identify signs, such as the number of visits to primary care doctors, that might indicate a disease outbreak.
While syndromic data monitoring might work well for a disease like polio with unique symptoms, it could be overwhelming and ineffective if used to report every respiratory symptom, The New Republic reports. But for SARS, there is evidence that syndromic monitoring could have caught the virus much earlier. If there had been a more integrated surveillance system in place, public health authorities could have seen the hundreds of dying pneumonia patients and unusual death notices in the region and acted quickly to quarantine the area and alert local health workers, according to The New Republic (Mukherjee, The New Republic, 5/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.