Researchers have developed a method to identify the cause of epidemics,
based on online reports about the symptoms, the season and the ratio of
cases to fatalities.
Using data from the Internet outbreak reporting
system ProMED-mail, researchers from Columbia University's Mailman
School of Public Health applied this method to more than 100 outbreaks
of encephalitis in South Asia.
The region has been recently
identified as an emerging infectious disease "hotspot". The data was
used to determine which of 10 infectious diseases was causing symptoms
of encephalitis, and whether Nipah a serious emerging infection
could be reliably differentiated from the others, the Journal of the
Royal Society Interface reports.
according to study author Stephen S. Morse, professor of epidemiology at
Columbia and an originator of ProMED-mail, was that unknown outbreaks
in resource-poor settings could be evaluated in real time, leading to
more rapid responses that could reduce the risk of a pandemic, according
to a Columbia statement.
"Our approach is especially beneficial
in resource-poor countries because of their limited surveillance
capacity and lack of laboratories to diagnose unusual outbreaks," said
Morse, who is also founder of ProMed.
"Such countries are often where new infectious diseases emerge," he added.