Outbreak Detection Software, `RedBat,' Alerts Health Officials of Mystery Infection Called SARS; Hospital Emergency Rooms Provide Vital Data to Health Officials for Timely Identification

AUSTIN, Texas -- Using symptom data already entered into hospital Emergency Room (ER) databases, the RedBat software system quickly alerts both hospital personnel and local health departments to a possible outbreak in the U.S. of the new Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

This syndrome has recently been reported in the Far East and Canada and is a highly contagious pneumonia that can be fatal. Because it cannot be diagnosed, the only reliable method for identification is through "syndromic surveillance," which is the ongoing analysis of signs and symptoms in a population. As with any disease outbreak, a fast response is necessary in order to save lives. RedBat saves time since it automatically scans existing data sources for symptoms, and does not require extra work for doctors or other health professionals. This is the first syndromic surveillance system that makes it easy to provide built-in secure communication directly between hospitals and public health officials who require immediate notification of suspicious symptom clusters. Using this software, health department officials can quickly detect a possible disease outbreak of SARS in their locale.

Instead of requiring additional data entry personnel, RedBat automatically scans symptom data already entered into the ER database. It applies "natural language processing" and pattern recognition techniques so any computerized text is used. RedBat sorts data into "syndrome" categories within seconds, and then uses sophisticated threshold analyses to identify the signs of SARS. The system is trained by adjusting how it recognizes unusual incidents as compared to past trends. When RedBat finds a suspicious cluster of symptoms, it automatically generates flags as a warning device. RedBat also provides a mapping system that pinpoints the locations of cases down to zip code or even street address to quickly get investigations underway.

RedBat data is sent directly from local hospitals to their health departments. Built-in security measures protect patient confidentiality, but individual patient identification can also be determined for tracing the history of the disease. The health department uses RedBat's extensive reports and graphs to look for clusters on a community-wide basis. But if SARS is not present in the community, RedBat provides statistical confirmation which helps quell public panic and fear.

In a memo to hospitals that have purchased RedBat in the San Antonio area, Roger Sanchez, chief of epidemiology at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, asks that hospitals stand ready. "Because of the recent outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome that is being followed in China, we are asking hospitals in our county to be prepared with RedBat. It picks up unusual expressions of respiratory illnesses or bio-agents if and when they occur in our area."

The RedBat design team has been in software design since 1985, providing epidemiological expertise in its development. It includes epidemiologists formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of Health. ICPA, Inc. develops, distributes and supports RedBat, and has 18 years of experience helping epidemiologists and infection control personnel with flexible and practical software. The company offers annual subscriptions for toll-free technical support that include free updates, ensuring that RedBat is used to its potential and that users always have the latest version.

Source: ICPA, Inc.

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