CDC evaluates the use of the Public Health Grid informatics tool to fight pandemics

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A new study published in the International Journal of Grid and Utility Computing indicates that the Public Health Grid (PHGrid), a health informatics tool, could be used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight outbreaks around the country.

In the past, U.S. health officials have collected disease data for specific population groups, using the information they gathered to answer specific questions related to the spread of disease among these particular demographics. The study suggests that this approach was flawed, as it prevents authorities from fully investigating the trends and vectors associated with novel threats and illnesses.

In 2009, the CDC’s Public Health Informatics and Technology Program Office carried out research examining how a decentralized information structure based on the PHGrid could quickly and effectively model the spread of the ongoing H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic.

The authors of the study reported that this new technique allowed public health officials to access disparate data without having to take the time to repurpose older surveillance systems, helping them respond to the pandemic more easily. In addition, the PHGrid’s decentralized nature made it so that officials did not have to deal with the software bugs or problems that would have resulted from creating a new H1N1-specific surveillance program from scratch.

“The speed with which public health officials can identify, respond and deploy interventions in response to public health events has the potential to change the course or impact of a disease,” wrote the authors of the study.

At the end of their report, the CDC scientists indicated that further research into the PHGrid and associated health informatics tools would be necessary before its use could become standardized, adding that they are currently working to discover the grid’s applicability to other issues related to public health.

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