Public health officials use CDC systems in disaster response

Medical professionals responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster are relying on public health IT systems devised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help orchestrate the response to the catastrophe, a federal health IT specialist said.

'These systems certainly will be playing a role,' said John Loonsk, CDC's associate director for informatics.

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

'The systems fall in the general categories of awareness and monitoring the cases of disease, tracking the location and spread of disease, looking at the causative factors of disease and then going through to 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.

In the case of West Nile fever and comparable diseases, 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. For example, the two groups assigned West Nile Fever the code 10056.

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