University of Michigan research shows web-based system could help improve detection and response to spread of illnesses.
By Joe Wright
There is growing trend toward the use of “biosurveillance” – Web-based systems to track public health, many times with an added predictive model . As you’ll see in the University of Michigan press release below, a familiar sales pitch is employed to assert that the only way to keep the public safe is through pervasive surveillance … now including preschoolers.
With Ebola taking center stage as the latest threat to humanity, along with new concerns over enterovirus EV-D68 which is afflicting children in increasing numbers, the surveillance state is not letting a single crisis go to waste.
Recent announcements by social media companies also indicate the arrival of full-scale health surveillance. Twitter’s “ChatterGrabber” is a “machine-learning algorithm” that will harvest communications for “tickborne diseases, such as Lyme disease, public sentiment involving vaccines …serving as an early warning system for public health officials through suspicious tweets or conversations.” And Facebook is “ exploring creating online ‘support communities’ that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments…also considering new ‘preventative care’ applications that would help people improve their lifestyles.”
Embedded in all of these missions, naturally, is a drive to ensure a wider adoption of vaccines, perhaps making them mandatory under medical martial law . As the climate of fear begins to hit a fever pitch, we would do well to consider which is more frightening: the virus of the week or the permanent solutions currently being offered.
A web-based system that allows preschools and child care centers to report illnesses to local public health departments could improve the detection of disease outbreaks and allow resources to be mobilized more quickly, according to University of Michigan research to be presented Saturday, Oct. 11 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in San Diego.
“However, child care or preschool absences are typically more likely to be associated with illness and most young children continue to need child care for most of the year,” says Hashikawa, a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
Most public health departments do not electronically track influenza or stomach illnesses in preschools and child care centers settings.
“Most illness reporting methods used by many public health departments are slow, paper-based and inefficient,” says Hashikawa.
To improve reporting, Hashikawa and his colleagues created a computerized system and tested it at four early learning centers in Michigan. Staff were trained to use the system daily to report any ill child. No confidential or identifying information was collected. They entered data on illness type and symptoms in seven categories commonly seen in preschoolers: fever, influenza-like illness, pink eye, stomach illnesses (gastroenteritis), cold or respiratory symptoms, ear infections and rash. They also entered the age range of the ill child (infant, 0-12 months), (toddler, 13-35 months) or (preschooler, 36-59 months), daily attendance at their center, and action taken (e.g., child brought to a physician).
Researchers sent data electronically to the public health department weekly or more frequently if spikes in illness cases were seen.
Results showed centers reported 188 individual episodes of illness from Dec. 10, 2013, through March 28, 2014. Nearly 15 percent were infants, 32 percent were toddlers and 54 percent were preschoolers. The most common illnesses reported were gastroenteritis (37 percent), fever (31 percent), cold (17 percent) and influenza (3 percent).
Data also revealed an unusually large increase in gastroenteritis cases during a two-day period, which was comparable to a countywide spike among schools reported three weeks later.
“Preliminary data suggest that using the online biosurveillance in child care centers and preschools gives us an earlier detection and warning system because the younger children appeared to become sick first compared to middle school and high school aged children within the community,” says Hashikawa.
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