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1.  Establishing a Federal and State Data Exchange Pilot for Public Health Situational Awareness 
Objective
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) partnered with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), Bureau of Epidemiology, to implement a new process for the unidirectional exchange of electronic medical record (EMR) data when ASPR clinical assets are operational in the state following a disaster or other response event. The purpose of the current work was to automate the exchange of data from the ASPR electronic medical record system EMR-S into the FDOH Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE-FL) system during the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC).
Introduction
ASPR deploys clinical assets, including an EMR system, to the ground per state requests during planned and no-notice events. The analysis of patient data collected by deployed federal personnel is an integral part of ASPR and FDOH’s surveillance efforts. However, this surveillance can be hampered by the logistical issues of field work in a post-disaster environment leading to delayed analysis and interpretation of these data to inform decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels. FDOH operates ESSENCE-FL, a multi-tiered, automated, and secure web-based application for analysis and visualization of clinical data. The system is accessible statewide by FDOH staff as well as by hospitals that participate in the system. To improve surveillance ASPR and FDOH engaged in a pilot project whereby EMR data from ASPR would be sent to FDOH in near real-time during the 2012 hurricane season and the 2012 RNC. This project is in direct support of Healthcare Preparedness Capability 6, Information Sharing, and Public Health Preparedness Capability 13, Public Health Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation.
Methods
In 2011, FDOH approached ASPR about securely transmitting raw EMR data that could be ingested by ESSENCE-FL during ASPR deployments in the state. Upon conclusion of an agreement for a date exchange pilot, data elements of interest from the ASPR EMR were identified. Due to the modular design ESSENCE-FL Microsoft SQL databases were easily adapted by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) to add a new module to handle receipt of ASPR EMR data including code to process the files, remove duplicates and create associations with existing reference information, such as system-defined geographic regions and age groups. Scripts were developed to run on the ASPR server to create and send updated files via secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) every 15 minutes to ESSENCE-FL. Prior ASPR event deployment data was scrubbed and sent to ESSENCE-FL as a test dataset to ensure appropriate receipt and ingestion of the new data source.
Results
EMR data was transmitted through a central server at ASPR to ESSENCE-FL every 15 minutes during each day of the 2012 RNC (August 26–31). In ESSENCE-FL, configuration allowed the data to be queried, analyzed, and visualized similar to existing ESSENCE-FL data sources. In all, data from 11 patient encounters were successfully exchanged between the partners. The data were used by ASPR and FDOH to simultaneously monitor in near real-time onsite medical response activities during the convention.
Conclusions
Timely access to patient data can enhance situational awareness and disease surveillance efforts and provide decision makers with key information in an expedient manner during disaster response and mass gatherings such as the RNC. However, data are siloed within organizations. The collaboration between FDOH, ASPR and JHU/APL made EMR data sharing and analysis more expeditious and efficient and increased timely access to these data by local, state, and federal epidemiologists. The integration of these data into the ESSENCE-FL system created one location where users could go to access data and create epidemiologic reports for a given region in Florida, including the RNC. To achieve these successes with partners in the future, it will be necessary to develop partnerships well in advance of intended data exchange. Future recommendations include robust pre-event testing of the data exchange process and planning for a greater amount of lead-time between enacting the official agreement and beginning data exchange.
PMCID: PMC3692893
Syndromic surveillance; Public health informatics; Data exchange; Federal and state collaboration
2.  Chemical weapon functional exercise--Cincinnati: observations and lessons learned from a "typical medium-sized" city's response to simulated terrorism utilizing Weapons of Mass Destruction. 
Public Health Reports  2003;118(3):205-214.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare, there is growing concern about the United States' vulnerability to terrorist use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). As part of ongoing preparation for this terrible reality, many jurisdictions have been conducting simulated terrorist incidents to provide training for the public safety community, hospitals, and public health departments. As an example of this national effort to improve domestic preparedness for such events, a large scale, multi-jurisdictional chemical weapons drill was conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 20, 2000. This drill depicted the components of the early warning system for hospitals and public health departments, the prehospital medical response to terrorism. Over the course of the exercise, emergency medical services personnel decontaminated, triaged, treated, and transported eighty-five patients. Several important lessons were learned that day that have widespread applicability to health care delivery systems nationwide, especially in the areas of decontamination, triage, on-scene medical care, and victim transportation. As this training exercise helped Cincinnati to prepare for dealing with future large scale WMD incidents, such drills are invaluable preparation for all communities in a world increasingly at risk from terrorist attacks.
PMCID: PMC1497542  PMID: 12766215
3.  Call-Tracking Data and the Public Health Response to Bioterrorism-Related Anthrax 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2002;8(10):1088-1092.
After public notification of confirmed cases of bioterrorism-related anthrax, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emergency Operations Center responded to 11,063 bioterrorism-related telephone calls from October 8 to November 11, 2001. Most calls were inquiries from the public about anthrax vaccines (58.4%), requests for general information on bioterrorism prevention (14.8%), and use of personal protective equipment (12.0%); 882 telephone calls (8.0%) were referred to the state liaison team for follow-up investigation. Of these, 226 (25.6%) included reports of either illness clinically confirmed to be compatible with anthrax or direct exposure to an environment known to be contaminated with Bacillus anthracis. The remaining 656 (74.4%) included no confirmed illness but reported exposures to “suspicious” packages or substances or the receipt of mail through a contaminated facility. Emergency response staff must handle high call volumes following suspected or actual bioterrorist attacks. Standardized health communication protocols that address contact with unknown substances, handling of suspicious mail, and clinical evaluation of suspected cases would allow more efficient follow-up investigations of clinically compatible cases in high-risk groups.
doi:10.3201/eid0810.020355
PMCID: PMC2730299  PMID: 12396921
anthrax; bioterrorism; triage; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4.  Collaboration Between Public Health and Law Enforcement: New Paradigms and Partnerships for Bioterrorism Planning and Response 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2002;8(10):1152-1156.
The biological attacks with powders containing Bacillus anthracis sent through the mail during September and October 2001 led to unprecedented public health and law enforcement investigations, which involved thousands of investigators from federal, state, and local agencies. Following recognition of the first cases of anthrax in Florida in early October 2001, investigators from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were mobilized to assist investigators from state and local public health and law enforcement agencies. Although public health and criminal investigations have been conducted in concert in the past, the response to the anthrax attacks required close collaboration because of the immediate and ongoing threat to public safety. We describe the collaborations between CDC and FBI during the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks and highlight the challenges and successes of public health and law enforcement collaborations in general.
doi:10.3201/eid0810.020400
PMCID: PMC2730308  PMID: 12396931
police power; anthrax; quarantine; bioterrorism response; Bacillus anthracis; law; criminal investigation; Federal Bureau of Investigation
5.  Analysis of suspicious powders following the post 9/11 anthrax scare 
Journal of Medical Toxicology  2008;4(2):93-95.
Background
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SET Environmental, Inc., a Chicago-based environmental and hazardousmaterials management company received a large number of suspicious powders for analysis.
Methods
Samples of powders were submitted to SET for anthrax screening and/or unknown identification (UI). Anthrax screening was performed on-site using a ruggedized analytical pathogen identification device (R.A.P.I.D.) (Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT). UI was performed at SET headquarters (Wheeling, IL) utilizing a combination of wet chemistry techniques, infrared spectroscopy, and gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy. Turnaround time was approximately 2–3 hours for either anthrax or UI.
Result
Between October 10, 2001 and October 11, 2002, 161 samples were analyzed. Of these, 57 were for anthrax screening only, 78 were for anthrax and UI, and 26 were for UI only. Sources of suspicious powders included industries (66%), U.S. Postal Service (19%), law enforcement (9%), and municipalities (7%). There were 0/135 anthrax screens that were positive.
Conclusions
There were no positive anthrax screens performed by SET in the Chicago area following the post-9/11 anthrax scare. The only potential biological or chemical warfare agent identified (cyanide) was provided by law enforcement. Rapid anthrax screening and identification of unknown substances at the scene are useful to prevent costly interruption of services and potential referral for medical evaluation.
doi:10.1007/BF03160961
PMCID: PMC3550131  PMID: 18570168
anthrax; suspicious powders; field testing of powders; weapons of mass destruction
6.  Evidence of Local Persistence of Human Anthrax in the Country of Georgia Associated with Environmental and Anthropogenic Factors 
Background
Anthrax is a soil-borne disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is considered a neglected zoonosis. In the country of Georgia, recent reports have indicated an increase in the incidence of human anthrax. Identifying sub-national areas of increased risk may help direct appropriate public health control measures. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the spatial distribution of human anthrax and identify environmental/anthropogenic factors associated with persistent clusters.
Methods/Findings
A database of human cutaneous anthrax in Georgia during the period 2000–2009 was constructed using a geographic information system (GIS) with case data recorded to the community location. The spatial scan statistic was used to identify persistence of human cutaneous anthrax. Risk factors related to clusters of persistence were modeled using a multivariate logistic regression. Areas of persistence were identified in the southeastern part of the country. Results indicated that the persistence of human cutaneous anthrax showed a strong positive association with soil pH and urban areas.
Conclusions/Significance
Anthrax represents a persistent threat to public and veterinary health in Georgia. The findings here showed that the local level heterogeneity in the persistence of human cutaneous anthrax necessitates directed interventions to mitigate the disease. High risk areas identified in this study can be targeted for public health control measures such as farmer education and livestock vaccination campaigns.
Author Summary
Anthrax is a zoonotic bacterial disease that occurs nearly worldwide. Despite a large number of countries reporting endemic anthrax, persistence of the disease appears to be associated with specific ecological factors related to soil composition and climatic conditions. Human cases are most often associated with handling infected livestock or contaminated meat and most cases are in cutaneous form (skin infections). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country of Georgia has undergone major restructuring in land management and livestock handling and anthrax remains a serious public health risk. Few studies have evaluated the local spatial patterns of human anthrax. Here we identify areas on the landscape where human cutaneous anthrax persisted over the last decade. Persistence was found to be associated with both anthropogenic and environmental factors including soil pH and livestock density. These findings aid in the establishment of spatial baseline estimates of the disease and allow public health officials to adopt targeted anthrax control strategies, such as livestock vaccination campaigns and farmer education.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002388
PMCID: PMC3764226  PMID: 24040426
7.  Bioterrorism-Related Anthrax: International Response by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2002;8(10):1056-1059.
After reports of the intentional release of Bacillus anthracis in the United States, epidemiologists, laboratorians, and clinicians around the world were called upon to respond to widespread political and public concerns. To respond to inquiries from other countries regarding anthrax and bioterrorism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established an international team in its Emergency Operations Center. From October 12, 2001, to January 2, 2002, this team received 130 requests from 70 countries and 2 territories. Requests originated from ministries of health, international organizations, and physicians and included subjects ranging from laboratory procedures and clinical evaluations to assessments of environmental and occupational health risks. The information and technical support provided by the international team helped allay fears, prevent unnecessary antibiotic treatment, and enhance laboratory-based surveillance for bioterrorism events worldwide.
doi:10.3201/eid0810.020345
PMCID: PMC2730286  PMID: 12396915
anthrax; bioterrorism; international; Bacillus anthracis
8.  Leveraging Health Information Exchange to Support Public Health Situational Awareness: The Indiana Experience 
Online Journal of Public Health Informatics  2010;2(2):ojphi.v2i2.3213.
Public health situational awareness is contingent upon timely, comprehensive and accurate information from clinical systems. Ad-hoc models for sending non-standard clinical information directly to public health are inefficient and increasingly unsustainable. Information sharing models that leverage Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) are emerging. HIEs standardize, aggregate and streamline information sharing among data partners, including public health stakeholders, and HIE has supported public health practice in Indiana for more than 10 years. To accelerate nationwide adoption of HIE-supported situational awareness processes, the CDC awarded three HIEs across the nation, including Indiana, New York and Washington/Idaho. The Indiana partners included Indiana University School of Medicine, Regenstrief Institute, Indiana Health Information Exchange, Indiana State Department of Health, Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County, and Children’s Hospital Boston. Activities included augmenting biosurveillance processes, enabling bi-directional communication, enhancing automated detection of notifiable conditions, and demonstrating technological advances at national forums. HIE transactions destined for public health were enhanced with standardized clinical vocabulary and more complete physician contact information. During the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, the HIE delivered targeted public health broadcast messages to providers in Marion County, Indiana. We will review the partnership characteristics, activities, accomplishments and future directions for our health information exchange.
doi:10.5210/ojphi.v2i2.3213
PMCID: PMC3615763  PMID: 23569586
health information exchange; situational awareness; biosurveillance; syndromic surveillance; influenza
9.  Assessment of Epidemiology Capacity in State Health Departments, 2004–2009 
Public Health Reports  2011;126(1):84-93.
SYNOPSIS
Objectives
To assess the number of epidemiologists and epidemiology capacity nationally, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists surveyed state health departments in 2004, 2006, and 2009. This article summarizes findings of the 2009 assessment and analyzes five-year (2004–2009) trends in the epidemiology workforce.
Methods
Online surveys collected information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia about the number of epidemiologists employed, their training and education, program and technologic capacity, organizational structure, and funding sources. State epidemiologists were the key informants; 1,544 epidemiologists provided individual-level information.
Results
The number of epidemiologists in state health departments decreased approximately 12% from 2004 to 2009. Two-thirds or more states reported less than substantial (<50% of optimum) surveillance and epidemiology capacity in five of nine program areas. Capacity has diminished since 2006 for three of four epidemiology-related Essential Services of Public Health (ESPHs). Fewer than half of all states reported using surveillance technologies such as Web-based provider reporting systems. State health departments need 68% more epidemiologists to reach optimal capacity in all program areas; smaller states (<5 million population) have higher epidemiologist-to-population ratios than more populous states.
Conclusions
Epidemiology capacity in state health departments is suboptimal and has decreased, as assessed by states' ability to carry out the ESPHs, by their ability to use newer surveillance technologies, and by the number of epidemiologists employed. Federal emergency preparedness funding, which supported more than 20% of state-based epidemiologists in 2006, has decreased. The 2009 Epidemiology Capacity Assessment demonstrates the negative impact of this decrease on states' epidemiology capacity.
PMCID: PMC3001826  PMID: 21337933
10.  Linking public health agencies and hospitals for improved emergency preparedness: North Carolina's public health epidemiologist program 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:141.
Background
In 2003, 11 public health epidemiologists were placed in North Carolina's largest hospitals to enhance communication between public health agencies and healthcare systems for improved emergency preparedness. We describe the specific services public health epidemiologists provide to local health departments, the North Carolina Division of Public Health, and the hospitals in which they are based, and assess the value of these services to stakeholders.
Methods
We surveyed and/or interviewed public health epidemiologists, communicable disease nurses based at local health departments, North Carolina Division of Public Health staff, and public health epidemiologists' hospital supervisors to 1) elicit the services provided by public health epidemiologists in daily practice and during emergencies and 2) examine the value of these services. Interviews were transcribed and imported into ATLAS.ti for coding and analysis. Descriptive analyses were performed on quantitative survey data.
Results
Public health epidemiologists conduct syndromic surveillance of community-acquired infections and potential bioterrorism events, assist local health departments and the North Carolina Division of Public Health with public health investigations, educate clinicians on diseases of public health importance, and enhance communication between hospitals and public health agencies. Stakeholders place on a high value on the unique services provided by public health epidemiologists.
Conclusions
Public health epidemiologists effectively link public health agencies and hospitals to enhance syndromic surveillance, communicable disease management, and public health emergency preparedness and response. This comprehensive description of the program and its value to stakeholders, both in routine daily practice and in responding to a major public health emergency, can inform other states that may wish to establish a similar program as part of their larger public health emergency preparedness and response system.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-141
PMCID: PMC3337284  PMID: 22361231
11.  Hazards of Illicit Methamphetamine Production and Efforts at Reduction: Data from the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance System 
Public Health Reports  2011;126(Suppl 1):116-123.
Objectives.
Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive drug of abuse that can easily be made in small illegal laboratories from household chemicals that are highly toxic and dangerous. Meth labs have been found in locations such as homes, outbuildings, motels, and cars. Its production endangers the “cook,” neighbors, responders, and the environment. This article describes surveillance data used to examine the emergence and public health impacts of illicit clandestine meth labs, as well as two states' efforts to thwart lab operations and prevent responder injuries.
Methods.
We analyzed data collected from 2001 to 2008 by 18 states participating in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) Program to examine the occurrence and public health impacts of clandestine meth production.
Results.
HSEES data indicate that the majority of clandestine meth lab events occurred in residential areas. About 15% of meth lab events required evacuation. Nearly one-fourth of these events resulted in injuries, with 902 reported victims. Most victims (61%) were official responders, and one-third were members of the general public. Since 2004, with the implementation of local and federal laws and prevention activities, the number of meth lab events has declined. Increased education and training of first responders has led to decreased injuries among police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.
Conclusions.
HSEES data provided a good data source for monitoring the emergence of domestic clandestine meth production, the associated public health effects, and the results of state and federal efforts to promote actions to address the problem.
PMCID: PMC3072910  PMID: 21563719
12.  Urgent Care Providers’ Knowledge and Attitude about Public Health Reporting and Pertussis Control Measures: Implications for Informatics 
Objectives
We assessed urgent care providers’ knowledge about public health reporting, guidelines, and actions for the prevention and control of pertussis; attitudes about public health reporting and population-based data; and perception of reporting practices in their clinic.
Methods
We identified the 106 providers (95% are physicians) employed in 28 urgent care clinics owned by Intermountain Healthcare located throughout Utah and southern Idaho. We performed a descriptive, cross-sectional survey and assessed providers’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors associated with population-based data and public health mandates and recommendations. The online survey was completed between 11/1/2007 and 2/29/2008.
Results
Among 63 practicing urgent care providers (60% response rate), 19% knew that clinically diagnosed pertussis was reportable, and only half (52%) the providers correctly responded about current pertussis vaccination recommendations. Most (35–78%) providers did not know the prevention and control measures performed by public health practitioners after reporting occurs, including contact tracing, testing, treatment, and prophylaxis. Half (48%) the providers did not know that health department personnel can prescribe antibiotics for contacts of a reported case, and only 22% knew that health department personnel may perform diagnostic testing on contacts. Attitudes about reporting are variable, and reporting responsibility is diffused.
Conclusion
To improve our ability to meet public health goals, systems need to be designed that engage urgent care providers in the public health process, improve their knowledge and attitude about reporting, and facilitate the flow of information between urgent care and public health settings.
doi:10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181af0aab
PMCID: PMC3070180  PMID: 19823151
Pertussis; Disease Notification; Public Health Practice; Clinical Decision Support Systems; Ambulatory Urgent Care
13.  The Internet as a Vehicle to Communicate Health Information During a Public Health Emergency: A Survey Analysis Involving the Anthrax Scare of 2001 
Background
The recent public health risks arising from bioterrorist threats and outbreaks of infectious diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) highlight the challenges of effectively communicating accurate health information to an alarmed public.
Objective
To evaluate use of the Internet in accessing information related to the anthrax scare in the United States in late 2001, and to strategize about the most effective use of this technology as a communication vehicle during times of public health crises.
Methods
A paper-based survey to assess how individuals obtained health information relating to bioterrorism and anthrax during late 2001.We surveyed 500 randomly selected patients from two ambulatory primary care clinics affiliated with the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
Results
The response rate was 42%. While traditional media provided the primary source of information on anthrax and bioterrorism, 21% (95% CI, 15% - 27%) of respondents reported searching the Internet for this information during late 2001. Respondents reported trusting information from physicians the most, and information from health websites slightly more than information from any traditional media source. Over half of those searching the Internet reported changing their behavior as a result of information found online.
Conclusions
Many people already look to the Internet for information during a public health crisis, and information found online can positively influence behavioral responses to such crises. However, the potential of the Internet to convey accurate health information and advice has not yet been realized. In order to enhance the effectiveness of public-health communication, physician practices could use this technology to pro-actively e-mail their patients validated information. Still, unless Internet access becomes more broadly available, its benefits will not accrue to disadvantaged populations.
doi:10.2196/jmir.6.1.e8
PMCID: PMC1550585  PMID: 15111274
bioterrorism; public health; communication; electronic mail; inequality; behavior
14.  Surveillance for Radiation-Related Exposures Reported to the National Poison Data System 
Objective
To describe radiation-related exposures of potential public health significance reported to the National Poison Data System (NPDS).
Introduction
For radiological incidents, collecting surveillance data can identify radiation-related public health significant incidents quickly and enable public health officials to describe the characteristics of the affected population and the magnitude of the health impact which in turn can inform public health decision-making. A survey administered by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) to state health departments in 2010 assessed the extent of state-level planning for surveillance of radiation-related exposures and incidents: 70%–84% of states reported minimal or no planning completed. One data source for surveillance of radiological exposures and illnesses is regional poison centers (PCs), who receive information requests and reported exposures from healthcare providers and the public. Since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) have conducted ongoing surveillance for exposures to radiation and radioactive materials reported from all 57 United States (US) PCs to NPDS, a web-based, national PC reporting database and surveillance system.
Methods
We collaborated with the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), Poisindex® and Thomson Reuters Healthcare to develop an improved coding system for tracking radiation-related exposures reported to US PCs during 2011 and trained PC staff on its usage. We reviewed NPDS data from 1 September 2010 – 30 June 2012 for reported exposures to pharmaceutical or nonpharmaceutical radionuclides; ionizing radiation; radiological or nuclear weapons; or X-ray, alpha, beta, gamma, or neutron radiation. CDC medical toxicology and epidemiology staff reviewed each reported exposure to determine whether it was of potential public health concern (e.g. exposures associated with an ongoing public health emergency, several reported exposures clustered in space and time). When further information was needed to classify the potential public health importance of a call, CDC and AAPCC staff contacted the regional PC where each call originated. When exposures were spatially and temporally clustered, we reviewed news stories in the public media for evidence of an associated radiation incident.
Results
Of 419 exposures reported during the study period, 25 were associated with a radiation-related incident. Of these, 4 were related to an exposure to x-ray radiation from an industrial radiography incident, 11 were related to a transportation accident involving potential contamination with radioactive material, and 10 were related to the Fukushima Daiichi Japan nuclear reactor disaster. Public health, hazardous materials, or hospital radiation safety staff were involved in responding to each of these events. We also identified 26 reported exposures associated with a regional radiation anti-terrorism exercise. The reported exposures were followed-up and removed from analysis once we determined they were part of the exercise. The remaining (n=368; 88%) were either requests for information, confirmed non-exposures, or exposures deemed unrelated or non-significant.
Conclusions
The capability to monitor self- or clinician-reported exposures to radiation and radioactive materials is available in NPDS for state and local public health use in collaboration with their regional PC and may improve public health capacity to identify and respond to radiological emergencies. Next steps include testing the system’s capability to accurately classify and rapidly respond to a cluster of calls to PCs reporting radiation exposures associated with a “dirty bomb” exercise during July, 2012.
PMCID: PMC3692946
Surveillance; Poison center; radiation
15.  Using Social Network Analysis to Understand Missouri's System of Public Health Emergency Planners 
Public Health Reports  2007;122(4):488-498.
SYNOPSIS
Objectives.
Effective response to large-scale public health threats requires well-coordinated efforts among individuals and agencies. While guidance is available to help states put emergency planning programs into place, little has been done to evaluate the human infrastructure that facilitates successful implementation of these programs. This study examined the human infrastructure of the Missouri public health emergency planning system in 2006.
Methods.
The Center for Emergency Response and Terrorism (CERT) at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has responsibility for planning, guiding, and funding statewide emergency response activities. Thirty-two public health emergency planners working primarily in county health departments contract with CERT to support statewide preparedness. We surveyed the planners to determine whom they communicate with, work with, seek expertise from, and exchange guidance with regarding emergency preparedness in Missouri.
Results.
Most planners communicated regularly with planners in their region but seldom with planners outside their region. Planners also reported working with an average of 12 local entities (e.g., emergency management, hospitals/clinics). Planners identified the following leaders in Missouri's public health emergency preparedness system: local public health emergency planners, state epidemiologists, the state vaccine and grant coordinator, regional public health emergency planners, State Emergency Management Agency area coordinators, the state Strategic National Stockpile coordinator, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinators. Generally, planners listed few federal-level or private-sector individuals in their emergency preparedness networks.
Conclusions.
While Missouri public health emergency planners maintain large and varied emergency preparedness networks, there are opportunities for strengthening existing ties and seeking additional connections.
PMCID: PMC1888499  PMID: 17639652
16.  “Working the System”—British American Tobacco's Influence on the European Union Treaty and Its Implications for Policy: An Analysis of Internal Tobacco Industry Documents 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000202.
Katherine Smith and colleagues investigate the ways in which British American Tobacco influenced the European Union Treaty so that new EU policies advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health.
Background
Impact assessment (IA) of all major European Union (EU) policies is now mandatory. The form of IA used has been criticised for favouring corporate interests by overemphasising economic impacts and failing to adequately assess health impacts. Our study sought to assess how, why, and in what ways corporations, and particularly the tobacco industry, influenced the EU's approach to IA.
Methods and Findings
In order to identify whether industry played a role in promoting this system of IA within the EU, we analysed internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT) that were disclosed following a series of litigation cases in the United States. We combined this analysis with one of related literature and interviews with key informants. Our analysis demonstrates that from 1995 onwards BAT actively worked with other corporate actors to successfully promote a business-oriented form of IA that favoured large corporations. It appears that BAT favoured this form of IA because it could advance the company's European interests by establishing ground rules for policymaking that would: (i) provide an economic framework for evaluating all policy decisions, implicitly prioritising costs to businesses; (ii) secure early corporate involvement in policy discussions; (iii) bestow the corporate sector with a long-term advantage over other actors by increasing policymakers' dependence on information they supplied; and (iv) provide businesses with a persuasive means of challenging potential and existing legislation. The data reveal that an ensuing lobbying campaign, largely driven by BAT, helped secure binding changes to the EU Treaty via the Treaty of Amsterdam that required EU policymakers to minimise legislative burdens on businesses. Efforts subsequently focused on ensuring that these Treaty changes were translated into the application of a business orientated form of IA (cost–benefit analysis [CBA]) within EU policymaking procedures. Both the tobacco and chemical industries have since employed IA in apparent attempts to undermine key aspects of European policies designed to protect public health.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that BAT and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which all EU policy is made by making a business-oriented form of IA mandatory. This increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health, rather than in the interests of its citizens. Given that the public health community, focusing on health IA, has largely welcomed the increasing policy interest in IA, this suggests that urgent consideration is required of the ways in which IA can be employed to undermine, as well as support, effective public health policies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The primary goal of public health, the branch of medicine concerned with the health of communities, is to improve lives by preventing disease. Public-health groups do this by assessing and monitoring the health of communities, by ensuring that populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective health care, and by helping to formulate public policies that safeguard human health. Until recently, most of the world's major public-health concerns related to infectious diseases. Nowadays, however, many major public-health concerns are linked to the goods made and marketed by large corporations such as fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and chemicals. In Europe, these corporations are regulated by policies drawn up both by member states and by the European Commission, the executive organ of the European Union (EU; an economic and political partnership among 27 democratic European countries). Thus, for example, the tobacco industry, which is widely recognized as a driver of the smoking epidemic, is regulated by Europe-wide tobacco control policies and member state level policies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Since 1997, the European Commission has been required by law to assess the economic, social (including health), and environmental consequences of new policy initiatives using a process called an “impact assessment” (IA). Because different types of IA examine the likely effects of policies on different aspects of daily life—a health impact assessment, for example, focuses on a policy's effect on health—the choice of IA can lead to different decisions being taken about new policies. Although the IA tool adopted by the European Commission aims to assess economic, environmental and social impacts, independent experts suggest this tool does not adequately assess health impacts. Instead, economic impacts receive the most attention, a situation that may favour the interests of large businesses. In this study, the researchers seek to identify how and why the EU's approach to IA developed. More specifically, the researchers analyze internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT), which have been disclosed because of US litigation cases, to find out whether industry has played a role in promoting the EU's system of IA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed 714 BAT internal documents (identified by searching the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which contains more than 10 million internal tobacco company documents) that concerned attempts made by BAT to influence regulatory reforms in Europe. They also analyzed related literature from other sources (for example, academic publications) and interviewed 16 relevant people (including people who had worked at the European Commission). This analysis shows that from 1995, BAT worked with other businesses to promote European regulatory reforms (in particular, the establishment of a business-orientated form of IA) that favor large corporations. A lobbying campaign, initiated by BAT but involving a “policy network” of other companies, first helped to secure binding changes to the EU Treaty that require policymakers to minimize legislative burdens on businesses. The analysis shows that after achieving this goal, which BAT described as an “important victory,” further lobbying ensured that these treaty changes were translated into the implementation of a business-orientated form of IA within the EU. Both the tobacco industry and the chemical industry, the researchers argue, have since used the IA to delay and/or weaken EU legislation intended to protect public health.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that BAT and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which EU policy is made by ensuring that all significant EU policy decisions have to be assessed using a business-orientated IA. As the authors note, this situation increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that favor big business rather than the health of its citizens. Furthermore, these findings suggest that by establishing a network of other industries to help in lobbying for EU Treaty changes, BAT was able to distance itself from the push to establish a business-orientated IA to the extent that Commission officials were unaware of the involvement of the tobacco industry in campaigns for IA. Thus, in future, to safeguard public health, policymakers and public-health groups must pay more attention to corporate efforts to shape decision-making processes. In addition, public-health groups must take account of the ways in which IA can be used to undermine as well as support effective public-health policies and they must collaborate more closely in their efforts to ensure effective national and international policy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/0.1371/journal.pmed.1000202.
Wikipedia has a page on public health (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
More information on the European Union (in several languages), on public health in the European Union, and on impact assessment by the European Commission is available
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library is a public, searchable database of tobacco company internal documents detailing their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific activities
The World Health Organization provides information about the dangers of tobacco (in several languages)
The Smoke Free Partnership contains more information about smoking prevalence in Europe and about European policies to tackle the public health issues associated with tobacco use
For more information about tobacco industry influence on policy see the 2009 World Health Organization report on tobacco industry interference with tobacco control
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000202
PMCID: PMC2797088  PMID: 20084098
17.  Relationship between Vehicle Emissions Laws and Incidence of Suicide by Motor Vehicle Exhaust Gas in Australia, 2001–06: An Ecological Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000210.
In an ecological study, David Studdert and colleagues show that areas of Australia with fewer vehicles pre-dating stringent carbon monoxide emission laws have lower rates of suicide due to asphyxiation by motor vehicle exhaust gas.
Background
Globally, suicide accounts for 5.2% of deaths among persons aged 15 to 44 years and its incidence is rising. In Australia, suicide rates peaked in 1997 and have been declining since. A substantial part of that decline stems from a plunge in suicides by one particular method: asphyxiation by motor vehicle exhaust gas (MVEG). Although MVEG remains the second most common method of suicide in Australia, its incidence decreased by nearly 70% in the decade to 2006. The extent to which this phenomenon has been driven by national laws in 1986 and 1999 that lowered permissible levels of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions is unknown. The objective of this ecological study was to test the relationship by investigating whether areas of Australia with fewer noxious vehicles per capita experienced lower rates of MVEG suicide.
Methods and Findings
We merged data on MVEG suicides in Australia (2001–06) with data on the number and age of vehicles in the national fleet, as well as socio-demographic data from the national census. Poisson regression was used to analyse the relationship between the incidence of suicide within two levels of geographical area—postcodes and statistical subdivisions (SSDs)—and the population density of pre-1986 and pre-1999 passenger vehicles in those areas. (There was a mean population of 8,302 persons per postcode in the study dataset and 87,413 persons per SSD.) The annual incidence of MVEG suicides nationwide decreased by 57% (from 2.6 per 100,000 in 2001 to 1.1 in 2006) during the study period; the population density of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles decreased by 55% (from 14.2 per 100 persons in 2001 to 6.4 in 2006) and 26% (from 44.5 per 100 persons in 2001 to 32.9 in 2006), respectively. Area-level regression analysis showed that the suicide rates were significantly and positively correlated with the presence of older vehicles. A percentage point decrease in the population density of pre-1986 vehicles was associated with a 6% decrease (rate ratio [RR] = 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.05–1.08) in the incidence of MVEG suicide within postcode areas; a percentage point decrease in the population density of pre-1999 vehicles was associated with a 3% decrease (RR = 1.03; 95% CI 1.02–1.04) in the incidence of MVEG suicide.
Conclusions
Areas of Australia with fewer vehicles predating stringent CO emission laws experience lower rates of MVEG suicide. Although those emission laws were introduced primarily for environmental reasons, countries that lack them may miss the benefits of a serendipitous suicide prevention strategy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Suicide (self-inflicted death) is a major, preventable public-health problem. About 1 million people die each year from suicide and about 20 times as many people attempt suicide. Globally, suicide rates have increased by nearly a half over the past 45 years and suicide is now among the three leading causes of death in people aged 15–44 years. Within this age group, 1 in 20 deaths is a suicide. Most people who commit suicide have a mental illness, usually depression or substance abuse, but suicide can also be triggered by a stressful event such as losing a partner. Often warning signs are present—a person who talks about killing themselves must always be taken seriously. Adequate prevention and treatment of mental illness and interventions that teach young people coping skills and improve their self-esteem have shown promise in reducing suicide rates, as have strategies (for example, restrictions on the sale of pain killers) that reduce access to common methods of suicide.
Why Was This Study Done?
In Australia, the suicide rate has been declining since 1997 when a record 2,722 suicides occurred. Fewer suicides by asphyxiation (oxygen deprivation) by motor vehicle gas exhaust (MVEG) account for much of this decline. MVEG contains carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that blocks oxygen transport around the body. Although MVEG suicide is still the second most common means of suicide in Australia, its incidence has dropped by two-thirds since 1997 but why? One possibility is that national laws passed in 1986 and 1999 that lowered the permissible level of carbon monoxide in vehicle exhaust for environmental reasons have driven the decline in MVEG suicides. Evidence from other countries suggests that this might be the case but no-one has directly investigated the relationship between MVEG suicide and the use of vehicles with reduced carbon monoxide emissions. In this ecological study (a study in which the effect of an intervention is studied on groups of people rather than on individuals), the researchers ask whether the number of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles within particular geographic areas in Australia is correlated with the rates of MVEG suicide in those areas between 2001 and 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on MVEG suicides from the Australian National Coroners Information System and data on the number and age of vehicles on the road from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. MVEG suicides dropped from 498 in 2001 to 231 in 2006, they report, and 28% of passenger vehicles registered in Australia were made before 1986 in 2001 but only 12% in 2006; the percentage of registered vehicles made before 1999 fell from 89% to 60% over the same period. The researchers then used a statistical technique called Poisson regression to analyze the relationship within postcode areas between the incidence of MVEG suicide and the presence of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles. This analysis showed that in areas where older vehicles were more numerous there were more MVEG suicides (a positive correlation). Specifically, the researchers calculate that if the proportion of pre-1986 vehicles on the road in Australia had stayed at 2001 levels throughout their study period, 621 extra MVEG suicides would have occurred in the country over that time.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in areas of Australia that had fewer vehicles on the road predating stringent vehicle emission laws, there were lower rates of MVEG suicide between 2001 and 2006. Unfortunately, this study cannot provide any information on the actual age of vehicles used in MVEG suicides or on the relationship between vehicle age and attempted MVEG suicides. It also cannot reveal whether those areas that had the sharpest decreases in the density of older vehicles had the sharpest decreases in suicide rates because very few suicides occurred in most postcodes during the study. Most importantly, the design of this study means that the researchers cannot discount the possibility that the changes in Australia's emission laws have steered people towards other methods of taking their own lives. Nevertheless, the findings of this study suggest that the introduction of stringent vehicle emission laws for environmental reasons might, serendipitously, be a worthwhile long-term suicide prevention strategy in countries where MVEG suicide is common.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000210.
Another PLoS Medicine research article, by Shu-Sen Chang and colleagues, investigates the evolution of the epidemic of charcoal-burning suicide in Taiwan
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on suicide and suicide prevention
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has detailed information about suicide and its prevention
The World Health Organization provides information on the global burden of suicide and on suicide prevention (in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about suicide (in English and Spanish)
Suicide Prevention Australia is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working as a public-health advocate in suicide prevention
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has recently published a review of suicide statistics in Australia
The National Coroners Information System is a database contains information on every death reported to an Australian coroner since July 2000 (January 2001 for Queensland)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000210
PMCID: PMC2796388  PMID: 20052278
18.  Enhanced Surveillance during the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC 
Objective
To describe how the existing state syndromic surveillance system (NC DETECT) was enhanced to facilitate surveillance conducted at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina from August 31, 2012 to September 10, 2012.
Introduction
North Carolina hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention, September 3–6, 2012. The NC Epidemiology and Surveillance Team was created to facilitate enhanced surveillance for injuries and illnesses, early detection of outbreaks during the DNC, assist local public health with epidemiologic investigations and response, and produce daily surveillance reports for internal and external stakeholders. Surveillane data were collected from several data sources, including North Carolina Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NC EDSS), triage stations, and the North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT).
NC DETECT was created by the North Carolina Division of Public Health (NC DPH) in 2004 in collaboration with the Carolina Center for Health Informatics (CCHI) in the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine to address the need for early event detection and timely public health surveillance in North Carolina using a variety of secondary data sources. The data from emergency departments, the Carolinas Poison Center, the Pre-hospital Medical Information System (PreMIS) and selected Urgent Care Centers were available for monitoring by authorized users during the DNC.
Methods
Within NC DETECT, new dashboards were created that allowed epidemiologists to monitor ED visits and calls to the poison center in the Charlotte area, the greater Cities Readiness Initiative region and the entire state for infectious disease signs and symptoms, injuries and any mention of bioterrorism agents. The dashboards also included a section to view user comments on the information presented in NC DETECT. Data processing changes were also made to improve the timeliness of the EMS data received from PreMIS.
Results
The DNC dashboards added to NC DETECT streamlined the workflow by placing all syndromes and annotations of interest in one place, with the date ranges and locations already pre-selected. Graphs in the dashboards could be easily copied and pasted into situation reports. The prompt development of these user-friendly tools provided effective surveillance for this mass gathering and ensured timely control measures, if necessary.
Conclusions
Syndromic surveillance systems can be enhanced to provide detailed, specific surveillance during mass gathering events. Elements that facilitate this enhancement include strong communication between skilled users and the informatics team, in order to minimize the burden placed on the surveillance team system users, data sources and system developers during the event. The visualizations developed as part of these new dashboards will be leveraged to provide additional tools to other NC DETECT user groups, including hospital-based public health epidemiologists and local health department users.
PMCID: PMC3692843
dashboards; enhanced surveillance; Democratic National Convention
19.  Monitoring the Impact of Influenza by Age: Emergency Department Fever and Respiratory Complaint Surveillance in New York City 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e247.
Background
The importance of understanding age when estimating the impact of influenza on hospitalizations and deaths has been well described, yet existing surveillance systems have not made adequate use of age-specific data. Monitoring influenza-related morbidity using electronic health data may provide timely and detailed insight into the age-specific course, impact and epidemiology of seasonal drift and reassortment epidemic viruses. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the use of emergency department (ED) chief complaint data for measuring influenza-attributable morbidity by age and by predominant circulating virus.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed electronically reported ED fever and respiratory chief complaint and viral surveillance data in New York City (NYC) during the 2001–2002 through 2005–2006 influenza seasons, and inferred dominant circulating viruses from national surveillance reports. We estimated influenza-attributable impact as observed visits in excess of a model-predicted baseline during influenza periods, and epidemic timing by threshold and cross correlation. We found excess fever and respiratory ED visits occurred predominantly among school-aged children (8.5 excess ED visits per 1,000 children aged 5–17 y) with little or no impact on adults during the early-2002 B/Victoria-lineage epidemic; increased fever and respiratory ED visits among children younger than 5 y during respiratory syncytial virus-predominant periods preceding epidemic influenza; and excess ED visits across all ages during the 2003–2004 (9.2 excess visits per 1,000 population) and 2004–2005 (5.2 excess visits per 1,000 population) A/H3N2 Fujian-lineage epidemics, with the relative impact shifted within and between seasons from younger to older ages. During each influenza epidemic period in the study, ED visits were increased among school-aged children, and each epidemic peaked among school-aged children before other impacted age groups.
Conclusions
Influenza-related morbidity in NYC was highly age- and strain-specific. The impact of reemerging B/Victoria-lineage influenza was focused primarily on school-aged children born since the virus was last widespread in the US, while epidemic A/Fujian-lineage influenza affected all age groups, consistent with a novel antigenic variant. The correspondence between predominant circulating viruses and excess ED visits, hospitalizations, and deaths shows that excess fever and respiratory ED visits provide a reliable surrogate measure of incident influenza-attributable morbidity. The highly age-specific impact of influenza by subtype and strain suggests that greater age detail be incorporated into ongoing surveillance. Influenza morbidity surveillance using electronic data currently available in many jurisdictions can provide timely and representative information about the age-specific epidemiology of circulating influenza viruses.
Don Olson and colleagues report that influenza-related morbidity in NYC from 2001 to 2006 was highly age- and strain-specific and conclude that surveillance using electronic data can provide timely and representative information about the epidemiology of circulating influenza viruses.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Seasonal outbreaks (epidemics) of influenza (a viral infection of the nose, throat, and airways) send millions of people to their beds every winter. Most recover quickly, but flu epidemics often disrupt daily life and can cause many deaths. Seasonal epidemics occur because influenza viruses continually make small changes to the viral proteins (antigens) that the human immune system recognizes. Consequently, an immune response that combats influenza one year may provide partial or no protection the following year. Occasionally, an influenza virus with large antigenic changes emerges that triggers an influenza pandemic, or global epidemic. To help prepare for both seasonal epidemics and pandemics, public-health officials monitor influenza-related illness and death, investigate unusual outbreaks of respiratory diseases, and characterize circulating strains of the influenza virus. While traditional influenza-related illness surveillance systems rely on relatively slow voluntary clinician reporting of cases with influenza-like illness symptoms, some jurisdictions have also started to use “syndromic” surveillance systems. These use electronic health-related data rather than clinical impression to track illness in the community. For example, increased visits to emergency departments for fever or respiratory (breathing) problems can provide an early warning of an influenza outbreak.
Why Was This Study Done?
Rapid illness surveillance systems have been shown to detect flu outbreaks earlier than is possible through monitoring deaths from pneumonia or influenza. Increases in visits to emergency departments by children for fever or respiratory problems can provide an even earlier indicator. Researchers have not previously examined in detail how fever and respiratory problems by age group correlate with the predominant circulating respiratory viruses. Knowing details like this would help public-health officials detect and respond to influenza epidemics and pandemics. In this study, the researchers have used data collected between 2001 and 2006 in New York City emergency departments to investigate these aspects of syndromic surveillance for influenza.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed emergency department visits categorized broadly into a fever and respiratory syndrome (which provides an estimate of the total visits attributable to influenza) or more narrowly into an influenza-like illness syndrome (which specifically indicates fever with cough and/or sore throat) with laboratory-confirmed influenza surveillance data. They found that emergency department visits were highest during peak influenza periods, and that the affect on different age groups varied depending on the predominant circulating viruses. In early 2002, an epidemic reemergence of B/Victoria-lineage influenza viruses caused increased visits among school-aged children, while adult visits did not increase. By contrast, during the 2003–2004 season, when the predominant virus was an A/H3N2 Fujian-lineage influenza virus, excess visits occurred in all age groups, though the relative increase was greatest and earliest among school-aged children. During periods of documented respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) circulation, increases in fever and respiratory emergency department visits occurred in children under five years of age regardless of influenza circulation. Finally, the researchers found that excess visits to emergency departments for fever and respiratory symptoms preceded deaths from pneumonia or influenza by about two weeks.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that excess emergency department visits for fever and respiratory symptoms can provide a reliable and timely surrogate measure of illness due to influenza. They also provide new insights into how different influenza viruses affect people of different ages and how the timing and progression of each influenza season differs. These results, based on data collected over only five years in one city, might not be generalizable to other settings or years, warn the researchers. However, the present results strongly suggest that the routine monitoring of influenza might be improved by using electronic health-related data, such as emergency department visit data, and by examining it specifically by age group. Furthermore, by showing that school-aged children can be the first people to be affected by seasonal influenza, these results highlight the important role this age group plays in community-wide transmission of influenza, an observation that could influence the implementation of public-health strategies such as vaccination that aim to protect communities during influenza epidemics and pandemics.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040247.
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on influenza for patients and health professionals and on influenza surveillance in the US (in English, Spanish, and several other languages)
• World Health Organization has a fact sheet on influenza and on global surveillance for influenza (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese)
• The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on flu (in English and Spanish)
• US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a feature called “focus on flu”
• A detailed report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled “Framework for Evaluating Public Health Surveillance Systems for Early Detection of Outbreaks” includes a simple description of syndromic surveillance
• The International Society for Disease Surveillance has a collaborative syndromic surveillance public wiki
• The Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory includes working papers and discussions by cultural anthropologists studying modern vital systems security and syndromic surveillance
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040247
PMCID: PMC1939858  PMID: 17683196
20.  Poison Center Data for Public Health Surveillance: Poison Center and Public Health Perspectives 
Objective
To describe the use of poison center data for public health surveillance from the poison center, local, state, and federal public health perspectives and to generate meaningful discussion on how to address the challenges to collaboration.
Introduction
Since 2008, poisoning has become the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States (US); since 1980, the poisoning-related fatality rate in the US has almost tripled.1 Many poison-related injuries and deaths are reported to regional poison centers (PCs) which receive about 2.4 million reports of human chemical and poison exposures annually.2 Federal, state, and local public health (PH) agencies often collaborate with poison centers and use PC data for public health surveillance of poisoning-related health issues. Many state and local PH agencies have partnerships with regional PCs for direct access to local PC data which help them perform this function. At the national level, CDC conducts public health surveillance for exposures and illnesses of public health significance using the National Poison Data System (NPDS), the national PC reporting database.
Though most PC and PH officials agree that PC data play an important role in PH practice and surveillance, collaboration between PH agencies and PCs has been hindered by numerous challenges. To address these challenges and bolster collaboration, the Poison Center and Public Health Collaborations Community of Practice (CoP) was created in 2010 by CDC as a means to share experiences, identify best practices, and facilitate relationships among federal, state and local public health agencies and PCs. To date, the Poison Center and Public Health Collaborations CoP includes over 200 members from state and local public health, regional PCs, CDC, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A leadership team was created with representatives of the many stakeholders of the community to drive its direction and oversee activities.
Methods
The panel will consist of 4 presenters and 1 moderator, who are members of the Poison Center and Public Health Collaborations CoP leadership team. Each presenter will bring a unique perspective of the use of PC data for PH practice and surveillance: CDC, state department of health, a local department of health, and a PC. Royal Law from the CDC National Center for Environmental Health will present on using PC data for identification of exposures and illnesses of public health significance identified from NPDS data collected from all 57 PCs. Dr. Jay Schauben from the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center - Jacksonville will discuss PC participation in surveillance and use of PC data for tracking and mitigation of PH events in Florida. Dr. Prakash Mulay from the Florida Department of Health will discuss utilization of PC data to enhance ESSENCE-based chemical-associated exposure and illness surveillance in Florida. Katherine Wheeler from the New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will discuss NYC’s use of PC data in surveillance of potential emerging issues, from energy drinks to synthetic marijuana. Each presenter will discuss the use of PC data for PH practice and surveillance in his or her organization and jurisdiction, the successes of using PC data, and their challenges.
Results
The moderator will engage the audience by facilitating discussion of the successes and challenges to using PC data for PH practice and surveillance with the audience.
Sample questions:
What are your current capacities and collaborative activities between your state/local health department and your poison center?
What non-funding related barriers hinder the collaboration between your state/local health department and poison center?
If more funding were available, how would you use this funding to increase the level of interactivity with the poison center and state/local health department?
PMCID: PMC3692745
Surveillance; Poison Center; Community of practice
21.  Core Verbal Autopsy Procedures with Comparative Validation Results from Two Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e268.
Background
Cause-specific mortality statistics remain scarce for the majority of low-income countries, where the highest disease burdens are experienced. Neither facility-based information systems nor vital registration provide adequate or representative data. The expansion of sample vital registration with verbal autopsy procedures represents the most promising interim solution for this problem. The development and validation of core verbal autopsy forms and suitable coding and tabulation procedures are an essential first step to extending the benefits of this method.
Methods and Findings
Core forms for peri- and neonatal, child, and adult deaths were developed and revised over 12 y through a project of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and were applied to over 50,000 deaths. The contents of the core forms draw upon and are generally comparable with previously proposed verbal autopsy procedures. The core forms and coding procedures based on the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD) were further adapted for use in China. These forms, the ICD tabulation list, the summary validation protocol, and the summary validation results from Tanzania and China are presented here.
Conclusions
The procedures are capable of providing reasonable mortality estimates as adjudged against stated performance criteria for several common causes of death in two countries with radically different cause structures of mortality. However, the specific causes for which the procedures perform well varied between the two settings because of differences in the underlying prevalence of the main causes of death. These differences serve to emphasize the need to undertake validation studies of verbal autopsy procedures when they are applied in new epidemiological settings.
A procedure for recording verbal autopsy information was tested in two countries and found to be capable of providing reasonable mortality data. The need to undertake validation studies was also demonstrated.
Editors' Summary
Background.
People living in developed countries take it for granted that when a loved one dies an accurate cause-of-death certificate will be issued. But for two-thirds of the deaths that occur worldwide, there are no certificates. Detailed information about what people die from is unavailable for more than 50% of countries, many of which have high death rates. This information is badly needed for public-health planning, for using scarce health resources wisely, and for monitoring the effect of new health initiatives. One way to improve knowledge about what people die from is a procedure called verbal autopsy (VA). Relatives or caregivers are interviewed about the symptoms experienced by the deceased before their death and the circumstances surrounding their death by trained personnel who use a standard form. Doctors then review the completed VA forms and assign a specific cause of death from a short version of the International Classifications of Diseases, or ICD, an internationally agreed on list of codes for hundreds of diseases.
Why Was This Study Done?
VA procedures are being developed in many countries, but each step in a VA can be affected by factors that vary from place to place, such as how long after the death the interview is done, the training that interviewers receive, how the questions are worded, and the locally common diseases, which tend to be recognized better than rare diseases. To ensure that the data collected are accurate and comparable between countries and also over time, VA procedures need to be standardized. In this study, the researchers describe their efforts to achieve this through the development and validation of core VA procedures.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 2001, the researchers refined the VA forms that were being used in Tanzania for deaths occurring around the time of birth and for deaths occurring in childhood and adulthood. They then translated the forms for use in China, adapting them slightly to allow for cultural differences in how symptoms are described. They also drew up a short list of ICD codes to use in tabulating and validating important causes of death. Then, for four years, they collected VA and medical record information for the same deceased individuals and measured how well the VA procedure agreed with the medical record information in both countries. They found that the procedure could be transferred between China and Tanzania but that it performed rather differently for different causes of death in the two countries. So, in both countries, the procedure accurately recorded tuberculosis, cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes, and transport accidents as causes of death. But some other causes of death were accurately recorded in one country only—generally the common diseases in that country—and many causes of death were inaccurately reported in both countries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers use their experience of developing VAs for use in Tanzania and China and the results of this study to make several recommendations about how to develop standardized VA procedures that will yield accurate cause of death. For example, they suggest that the VA form should contain a detailed core symptom duration checklist and only a short space for a narrative history (an open-ended description of the last illness provided by the relative or caregiver) because long narrative histories are hard to standardize. They discuss the need to adapt core VA forms when moving between countries to allow for linguistic differences and colloquial expression and also the need to consider cultural differences between countries—for example, how soon after bereavement a VA interview can occur. Most importantly, they strongly recommend that validation studies like theirs should be routinely done when VA procedures are applied in new countries or if the major cause of death in a country changes because of a new epidemic or health initiative. Provided this is done, write the researchers, although VA procedures can never be as accurate as proper medical certification at the time of death, they should provide important information about the causes of death for the many countries where this information would otherwise be completely missing.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030268.
• World Health Organization information on mortality and on the International Classification of Diseases
• The United Nations' World Mortality Report 2005
• Information on the Tanzania Ministry of Health Adult Morbidity and Mortality Project, which used the VA procedures on which this study was based
• A description of a standard VA method for investigating deaths in infants and children from the World Health Organization
• The INDEPTH Network, an organization collecting health statistics from developing countries that provides standardized VA forms
• MEASURE Evaluation, a USAID-funded project that, in collaboration with the US Census Bureau and the University of Queensland (Australia), supports countries to implement core VA procedures and sample/sentinel vital registration methods
• The Health Metrics Network, a global collaboration focused on strengthening country health information systems to generate sound data for decision-making at country and global levels, is committed to improving sources of vital statistics and cause-of-death data
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030268
PMCID: PMC1502154  PMID: 16942391
22.  Moving from Data on Deaths to Public Health Policy in Agincourt, South Africa: Approaches to Analysing and Understanding Verbal Autopsy Findings 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000325.
Peter Byass and colleagues compared two methods of assessing data from verbal autopsies, review by physicians or probabilistic modeling, and show that probabilistic modeling is the most efficient means of analyzing these data
Background
Cause of death data are an essential source for public health planning, but their availability and quality are lacking in many parts of the world. Interviewing family and friends after a death has occurred (a procedure known as verbal autopsy) provides a source of data where deaths otherwise go unregistered; but sound methods for interpreting and analysing the ensuing data are essential. Two main approaches are commonly used: either physicians review individual interview material to arrive at probable cause of death, or probabilistic models process the data into likely cause(s). Here we compare and contrast these approaches as applied to a series of 6,153 deaths which occurred in a rural South African population from 1992 to 2005. We do not attempt to validate either approach in absolute terms.
Methods and Findings
The InterVA probabilistic model was applied to a series of 6,153 deaths which had previously been reviewed by physicians. Physicians used a total of 250 cause-of-death codes, many of which occurred very rarely, while the model used 33. Cause-specific mortality fractions, overall and for population subgroups, were derived from the model's output, and the physician causes coded into comparable categories. The ten highest-ranking causes accounted for 83% and 88% of all deaths by physician interpretation and probabilistic modelling respectively, and eight of the highest ten causes were common to both approaches. Top-ranking causes of death were classified by population subgroup and period, as done previously for the physician-interpreted material. Uncertainty around the cause(s) of individual deaths was recognised as an important concept that should be reflected in overall analyses. One notably discrepant group involved pulmonary tuberculosis as a cause of death in adults aged over 65, and these cases are discussed in more detail, but the group only accounted for 3.5% of overall deaths.
Conclusions
There were no differences between physician interpretation and probabilistic modelling that might have led to substantially different public health policy conclusions at the population level. Physician interpretation was more nuanced than the model, for example in identifying cancers at particular sites, but did not capture the uncertainty associated with individual cases. Probabilistic modelling was substantially cheaper and faster, and completely internally consistent. Both approaches characterised the rise of HIV-related mortality in this population during the period observed, and reached similar findings on other major causes of mortality. For many purposes probabilistic modelling appears to be the best available means of moving from data on deaths to public health actions.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Whenever someone dies in a developed country, the cause of death is determined by a doctor and entered into a “vital registration system,” a record of all the births and deaths in that country. Public-health officials and medical professionals use this detailed and complete information about causes of death to develop public-health programs and to monitor how these programs affect the nation's health. Unfortunately, in many developing countries dying people are not attended by doctors and vital registration systems are incomplete. In most African countries, for example, less than one-quarter of deaths are recorded in vital registration systems. One increasingly important way to improve knowledge about the patterns of death in developing countries is “verbal autopsy” (VA). Using a standard form, trained personnel ask relatives and caregivers about the symptoms that the deceased had before his/her death and about the circumstances surrounding the death. Physicians then review these forms and assign a specific cause of death from a shortened version of the International Classification of Diseases, a list of codes for hundreds of diseases.
Why Was This Study Done?
Physician review of VA forms is time-consuming and expensive. Consequently, computer-based, “probabilistic” models have been developed that process the VA data and provide a likely cause of death. These models are faster and cheaper than physician review of VAs and, because they do not rely on the views of local doctors about the likely causes of death, they are more internally consistent. But are physician review and probabilistic models equally sound ways of interpreting VA data? In this study, the researchers compare and contrast the interpretation of VA data by physician review and by a probabilistic model called the InterVA model by applying these two approaches to the deaths that occurred in Agincourt, a rural region of northeast South Africa, between 1992 and 2005. The Agincourt health and sociodemographic surveillance system is a member of the INDEPTH Network, a global network that is evaluating the health and demographic characteristics (for example, age, gender, and education) of populations in low- and middle-income countries over several years.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers applied the InterVA probabilistic model to 6,153 deaths that had been previously reviewed by physicians. They grouped the 250 cause-of-death codes used by the physicians into categories comparable with the 33 cause-of-death codes used by the InterVA model and derived cause-specific mortality fractions (the proportions of the population dying from specific causes) for the whole population and for subgroups (for example, deaths in different age groups and deaths occurring over specific periods of time) from the output of both approaches. The ten highest-ranking causes of death accounted for 83% and 88% of all deaths by physician interpretation and by probabilistic modelling, respectively. Eight of the most frequent causes of death—HIV, tuberculosis, chronic heart conditions, diarrhea, pneumonia/sepsis, transport-related accidents, homicides, and indeterminate—were common to both interpretation methods. Both methods coded about a third of all deaths as indeterminate, often because of incomplete VA data. Generally, there was close agreement between the methods for the five principal causes of death for each age group and for each period of time, although one notable discrepancy was pulmonary (lung) tuberculosis, which accounted for 6.4% and 21.3% of deaths in this age group, respectively, according to the physicians and to the model. However, these deaths accounted for only 3.5% of all the deaths.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal no differences between the cause-specific mortality fractions determined from VA data by physician interpretation and by probabilistic modelling that might have led to substantially different public-health policy programmes being initiated in this population. Importantly, both approaches clearly chart the rise of HIV-related mortality in this South African population between 1992 and 2005 and reach similar findings on other major causes of mortality. The researchers note that, although preparing the amount of VA data considered here for entry into the probabilistic model took several days, the model itself runs very quickly and always gives consistent answers. Given these findings, the researchers conclude that in many settings probabilistic modeling represents the best means of moving from VA data to public-health actions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000325.
The importance of accurate data on death is further discussed in a perspective previously published in PLoS Medicine Perspective by Colin Mathers and Ties Boerma
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on the vital registration of deaths and on the International Classification of Diseases; the WHO Health Metrics Network is a global collaboration focused on improving sources of vital statistics; and the WHO Global Health Observatory brings together core health statistics for WHO member states
The INDEPTH Network is a global collaboration that is collecting health statistics from developing countries; it provides more information about the Agincourt health and socio-demographic surveillance system and access to standard VA forms
Information on the Agincourt health and sociodemographic surveillance system is available on the University of Witwatersrand Web site
The InterVA Web site provides resources for interpreting verbal autopsy data and the Umeå Centre for Global Health Reseach, where the InterVA model was developed, is found at http://www.globalhealthresearch.net
A recent PLoS Medicine Essay by Peter Byass, lead author of this study, discusses The Unequal World of Health Data
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000325
PMCID: PMC2923087  PMID: 20808956
23.  A State-Based Analysis of Public Health Preparedness Programs in the United States 
Public Health Reports  2006;121(6):737-745.
SYNOPSIS
Objectives
Given the national effort to respond to the challenge of terrorism post-9/11, this study examined the organizational structure of state public health preparedness programs across the country, their administration, and the personnel and resources supported through federal cooperative agreements and state funds.
Methods
In Fall 2004, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials surveyed state public health preparedness directors of all 50 states and territories of the United States regarding the organizational structure, administration, personnel, and resources of the state public health preparedness programs.
Results
Individuals representing 45 states and the District of Columbia responded to the web-based questionnaire for a response rate of 88.2%. States tended to subdivide their organizations into regions for preparedness purposes. More than half the established preparedness regions (53.8%) were created post-9/11. Preparedness program directors frequently reported directly to either the state health official (40.0%) or a deputy state health official (33.3%). Responsibility for both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) cooperative agreements was predominantly vested in one person (73.3%). Federal resources were found to support needed preparedness workforce (CDC mean=117.1 full-time equivalents [FTEs]; HRSA mean=10.6 FTEs). In addition, 36.6% of the states also contributed to the public health preparedness budget.
Conclusions
This study of state public health agency preparedness provides new information about state-level organizational structure, administration, and support of preparedness programs. It offers the first comprehensive insights into the approaches states have adopted to build infrastructure and develop capacity through CDC and HRSA funding streams.
PMCID: PMC1781915  PMID: 17278409
24.  Developing Competencies for Applied Epidemiology: From Process to Product 
Public Health Reports  2008;123(Suppl 1):67-118.
SYNOPSIS
Objective
We developed competencies for applied epidemiologic practice by using a process that is based on existing competency frameworks, that engages professionals in academic and applied epidemiology at all governmental levels (local, state, and federal), and that provides ample opportunity for input from practicing epidemiologists throughout the U.S.
Methods
The model set of core public health competencies, consisting of eight core domains of public health practice, developed in 2001 by the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice, were adopted as the foundation of the Competencies for Applied Epidemiologists in Governmental Public Health Agencies (AECs). A panel of experts was convened and met over a period of 20 months to develop a draft set of AECs. Drafts were presented at the annual meetings of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and the American Public Health Association. Input and comments were also solicited from practicing epidemiologists and 14 national organizations representing epidemiology and public health.
Results
In all, we developed 149 competency statements across the eight domains of public health practice and four tiers of applied epidemiologic practice. In addition, sub- and sub-subcompetency statements were developed to increase the document's specificity. During the process, >800 comments from all governmental and academic levels and tiers of epidemiology practice were considered for the final statements.
Conclusion
The AECs are available for use in improving the training for and skill levels of practicing applied epidemiologists and should also be useful for educators, employers, and supervisors. Both CDC and CSTE plan to evaluate their implementation and usefulness in providing information for future competency development.
PMCID: PMC2233728  PMID: 18497021
25.  Adapting and Implementing an Evidence-Based Sun-Safety Education Program in Rural Idaho, 2012 
Background
Melanoma incidence and mortality rates in Idaho are higher than national averages. The importance of increased awareness of skin cancer has been cited by state and local organizations. St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) prioritized educational outreach efforts to focus on the implementation of a skin cancer prevention program in rural Idaho.
Community Context
As a community cancer center, MSTI expanded cancer education services to include dedicated support to rural communities. Through this expansion, an MSTI educator sought to partner with a community organization to provide sun-safety education. MSTI selected, adapted, and implemented an evidence-based program, Pool Cool.
Methods
The education program was implemented in 5 phases. In Phase I, we identified and recruited a community partner; in Phase 2, after thorough research, we selected a program, Pool Cool; in Phase 3, we planned the details of the program, including identification of desired short- and long-term outcomes and adaptation of existing program materials; in Phase 4, we implemented the program in summer 2012; in Phase 5, we assessed program sustainability and expansion.
Outcome
MSTI developed a sustainable partnership with Payette Municipal Pool, and in summer 2012, we implemented Pool Cool. Sun-safety education was provided to more than 700 young people aged 2 to 17 years, and educational signage and sunscreen benefitted hundreds of additional pool patrons.
Interpretation
Community cancer centers are increasingly being asked to assess community needs and implement evidence-based prevention and screening programs. Clinical staff may become facilitators of evidence-based public health programs. Challenges of implementing evidence-based programs in the context of a community cancer centers are staffing, leveraging of resources, and ongoing training and support.
doi:10.5888/pcd11.130268
PMCID: PMC4015303  PMID: 24809363

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