CDC tracking possible disease outbreaks in Katrina's wake

Medical professionals responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster relied on public health IT systems devised to help respond to catastrophes, said John Loonsk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's associate director for informatics.

In recent years, the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security have launched standards and systems to coordinate exchange of public health data and provide early warning of major disease outbreaks.

The systems fall into the categories of awareness and monitoring the cases of disease, tracking their locations and spread, looking at the causative factors and helping support response activities, Loonsk said.

Referring to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Loonsk noted that CDC systems could track diseases set loose by the flooding.

'There are certain diseases associated with increased water levels, such as mosquito-borne diseases [including West Nile fever], that would be tracked,' Loonsk said.

CDC uses an online system known as the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System to collate and analyze case reports from public health agencies. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, in conjunction with CDC, assigns standard disease codes to illnesses registered in the system.

NEDSS is a major component of the Public Health Information Network and is managed by CDC's Integrated Health Information Systems Office.

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