The threat from epidemics – and even bioterrorism – is real. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) admits as much.

But the Agency says it’s fighting back – tracking microbes with mathematical models and vanquishing infection with intelligence – business intelligence (BI), that is.PHAC researchers are using analytical software to predict and prevent disease outbreaks and a myriad potential bioterrorism threats.Text

PHAC researchers are using analytical software to predict and prevent disease outbreaks and a myriad potential bioterrorism threats.

The researchers use “dynamic mathematical models” to monitor and prevent the spread of an infectious disease, and assess its current impact on public health, according to Dr. Jeff Aramini, a senior epidemiologist at PHAC.

PHAC scientists are using BI tools developed by Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute in several initiatives to review and analyze health data and look for patterns and trends.

The Agency has licensed a “government bundle” or suite of base SAS tools, according to SAS spokesperson John Quinn.

Many PHAC epidemiologists use SAS as their primary analytical software, Aramini said. “SAS is routinely used to identify clusters in monitored infectious disease data and to analyze case/control data.”

This analysis, he said, helps identify risk factors for a number of diseases.

“This suite of tools, which encompasses capabilities for data management, analytics and reporting, gives (PHAC) the ability to configure and build custom applications to address specific requirements,” Quinn said.

One project is the creation of a bioterrorism early-warning system. PHAC is doing a pilot in Winnipeg, Man. that involves gathering and analyzing data on hospital admissions and over-the-counter medicine sales to track and predict outbreaks of respiratory diseases such as influenza.

PHAC declined further comment on the Winnipeg pilot.SAS was used to help confirm the likely source well responsible for the Walkerton 2000 E.coli outbreak, and it is regularly used to confirm food sources responsible for food borne disease outbreaks.Dr. Jeff Aramini>Text

PHAC researchers also used SAS technology to analyze the Walkerton tragedy (seven people died and more than 2,000 were sickened by E. coli contamination of that town’s Ont.’s water system in May 2000), among other high profile outbreaks, according to Agency reports.

“SAS was used to help confirm the likely source well responsible for the Walkerton 2000 E.coli outbreak, and it is regularly used to confirm food sources responsible for food borne disease outbreaks,” Aramini said.

SAS is also being used to develop analytical tools that analyze novel data sources (emergency room visits, telehealth calls, and over-the-counter drug sales) in an attempt to identify outbreaks of disease more quickly, he said.

PHAC is the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and is part of Health Canada.

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