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ESRI’s technology used to track H1N1 November 15, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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ESRI software is being used to track swine flu data.
National and local health departments, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have used the Redlands-based company’s geographic information systems technology to gauge concentrations of the H1N1 virus, which the CDC estimated Thursday has quadrupled in number of cases.

“The mapping (tool) is very important to the general public and to professionals and researchers because this epidemic definitely has a geographic component and has spread, has concentrations,” said James Pick, a professor in the University of Redlands School of Business who teaches GIS and has studied mortality and disease in geographic regions.

Bill Davenhall, global marketing manager for Health and Human Service Solutions at ESRI, said mapping epidemics like the swine flu shows how important location is to health.

“Where you live affects your health,” he said.

Not all data on maps is current because the CDC in July asked health agencies to stop reporting the number of cases, according to Edward Carl, executive director of Cincinnati-based HealthLandscape. There are now more than 22 million cases nationwide, Davenhall said.

“It was growing so fast, so they took the data and used it for forecasting. They didn’t actually count people with swine flu,” said Carl, whose nonprofit tweaks ESRI’s ArcGIS software so it is easier for health care professionals to use.

Davenhall said maps like those created by HealthLandscape are a “good representation of what people can do with our technology,” even though data is not current.
“It’s not representative of where all the flu is because nobody knows,” said Davenhall, who said numbers become fuzzier on the local level.

He said the most important statistic at the moment is where are the highest concentrations of children age 6 and under.

“That is going to tell me where the impact is greatest,” he said. “We’ve never had a flu outbreak in the history of keeping this data where so many children have died.”

Health agencies have used mapping technology for 10 years, and the mapping of epidemics, disease and mortality has been in place for more than three decades, according to Davenhall and Pick. The difference now, Carl said, is information is more accessible to the public, health professionals and researchers through the Internet.

“Health information reveals itself when you use it geographically and the best example is the swine flu – it looks at where it started and where it grew,” said Carl, who said HealthLandscape has used ESRI technology since 2004.

“The fact that this is Web-based, that’s what the trend is in GIS,” Pick said.

If officials know where the most cases are, they know where to send the most vaccines so the disease can be contained, Carl said. The heaviest concentrations are in large metropolitan areas, including Southern California, Pick said.

Pick said it helps to have detailed “variables,” like age groups and hospitalizations in a given area.

“The advice we gave to local authorities is this is where you should (put the) vaccine, and ages, and growth,” Carl said.

Besides Web-based mapping, information can be tracked for smaller time windows, as often as weekly, Pick said.

Besides the CDC, health agencies in 97 countries, the state of California and more than 300 local agencies use mapping technology, Davenhall said.

“What’s new (is) the health departments (have) been pushed into emergency health response, being ready 24/7,” he said. “They’re gearing up to use more of this technology to be prepare for (cases) from disasters, epidemics.”

The recent challenge with mapping swine flu spread is getting current data, Davenhall said.

“Everybody has been trying to track it – but it’s hard to track it if people don’t report it,” he said.

Many local health departments have reporting systems in place for certain diseases, including “flu-like disease,” he said. He said the CDC asked to halt testing for the swine flu because so many people had it, pushing testing capabilities over capacity.

“They just started treating for symptoms, so that’s where they lost count,” he said.

Other challenges with the swine flu are it is “year round” – starting in April and likely continuing through spring – and age group mortality, Davenhall said.

“Local health care departments have never had to sustain a response this long,” he said.

Another recent example of epidemic mapping was when West Nile virus was spreading, Davenhall said. He said there will be even more opportunities to help health agencies after the swine flu epidemic ends.

“What ESRI has done is focus on how we bring our environment into play,” he said.

“When this information is integrated with all the other clinical and social information, it adds increasing intelligence to it.

“This is why ESRI has become the gold standard to track these things,” he said.

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