RealNews

An Early Warning System for Diseases in New York

In mid-March, a corner of Queens suffered a sudden, sharp increase in the number of people with fever and trouble breathing, turning up mostly at one hospital’s emergency room. Where a statistical analysis said there should have been 7 such cases over three days, there were 23. The next day, there were 47. Suspecting an outbreak of the new Asian respiratory disease, a team of city health workers fanned out, questioning doctors, nurses and patients about symptoms, travels and recoveries, and making plans to isolate them if necessary. It turned out to be a false alarm, a statistical anomaly brought on by conditions as disparate as kidney stones and asthma. What was remarkable about that episode was not so much the city’s response, but that it was detected at all. No one at the hospital noticed it. (City officials would not name the hospital or the neighborhood.) Rather, the increase was caught by a computer at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan, where a statistical analysis program warned that there was only a 1 in 1,000 chance of such a thing being a random occurrence. This was the work of the city’s Syndromic Surveillance System, which public health experts call the most advanced early warning system for possible disease outbreaks in the country. Amid growing national concern about bioterrorism and the spread of exotic diseases, a number of cities have become interested in this field, and many have called New York, hoping to learn how it is done. Full Story

OODA Analyst

OODA Analyst

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