Zika virus outbreak makes disease surveillance a critical healthcare IT tool, expert says

Zika virus outbreak makes disease surveillance a critical healthcare IT tool, expert says

To lessen the damage of Zika or any virus, electronic communication between hospitals and health departments is key.

As the Zika virus spreads from South America to the United States, epidemiologist and public health expert Christine Hockett says disease surveillance technology is key to protecting against it.

Keeping open lines of electronic communication between hospitals and their state and local health agencies is critical as those departments “collect and analyze disease counts and monitor how disease spreads throughout a community or geographic location,” said Hockett, who works for Xerox-owned Consilience.

Zika, spread to people through mosquito bites, is currently most prevalent in South America. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens traveling to regions where virus transmission is ongoing.

But Hockett says she expects the virus to increasingly move into the United States. She points to a recent article in The Lancet, which argued that, “with an estimated 440,000 – 1.3 million cases currently in Brazil alone, Zika virus could be following in the footsteps of dengue and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“Given that an outbreak anywhere is potentially a threat everywhere,” the authors argued, “now is the time to step up all efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to Zika virus.”

“I don’t think ‘scared’ is the right word,” said Hockett. “But we need to be aware of what’s happening. And definitely, I think there are certain areas of the U.S. that are more vulnerable than others.”

Robust electronic surveillance – data collection and reporting – is essential to keeping that spread as limited as possible.

Syndromic surveillance has been a key part of meaningful use since the very beginning, of course, with the government requiring providers to prove their ability to use “timely pre-diagnostic data and statistical tools to detect and characterize unusual activity for further public health investigation.”

The Maven Outbreak Management Software offers Web-based case management tools that can help local and state health systems do disease surveillance, enabling them to analyze the health data from specific diseases.

Rather than a siloed database, the Maven tool is accessible across jurisdictions to local and state public health departments, and can integrate electronic reporting. Outbreaks can be assessed and triaged as confirmed cases emerge or patients at risk present themselves, with updates shared electronically or via its secure Web portal, according to the company.

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