Health Surveillance

With cases of SARS, West Nile, and the threat of bioterrorism on people's minds, a new system for detecting and tracking outbreaks within 24 hours could help calm concerns and save lives.

The computerized program is being put to use in NYC and it's being hailed as the most advanced early warning system for possible disease outbreaks in the nation.

Health department workers are gathering and analyzing 50,000 pieces of electronic information daily from hospital emergency rooms, pharmacy prescription sales, and 9-1-1 and ambulance dispatch agencies.

It's called Syndromic Surveillance, or an early warning system for detecting possible diseases and bio-terrorism.

New York is one of the first city's using the latest technology to track immediate illness patterns. It is a program that will likely serve as a model for health departments around the nation.

Doctors say the goal is to have their fingers on the health of the city in as real time as possible so it can help the city differentiate between cases of influenza, SARS or worse.

In 1999, New York’s Health Dept. used a map to track diseases like the West Nile virus. But pinpointing problem areas took days and weeks instead of hours.

The events of 9-11 and the anthrax cases that followed put a higher priority on early detection.

The information could end up being the first line of defense if or when any outbreak occurs.