System moves fast to swat new bugs

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Medical alert

Pennsylvania's National Electronic Disease Surveillance System had to have a flexible design because there's no telling when the next new communicable disease will pop up.

In fact, a serious new disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, broke out shortly after the launch of PA-NEDSS. Pennsylvania had one confirmed SARS case, in Philadelphia.

The PA-NEDSS staff added a screen for SARS reporting within two days of hearing about the outbreak, said Michelle S. Davis, deputy secretary for health planning and assessment.

'We designed PA-NEDSS with a dynamic screen capability,' said Debbie Sills, public-sector partner at Deloitte Consulting of New York.

The team built the SARS screen in about an hour and sent it to all the hospitals in the state that day, Sills said. The screen gave information on SARS symptoms, treatment and drugs.

'We can define the attributes of a new disease and add it to PA-NEDSS within minutes,' said David Andrew, the project manager. The Health Department also added a screen for reporting the monkey pox virus within a few hours of an outbreak of the prairie dog-borne disease in the Midwest in June.

'Anything that comes along, we could add it to PA-NEDSS in a matter of minutes if need be,' Andrews said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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