In the March 7 edition of Nature, ISID Director of Emerging Disease Surveillance and ProMED Editor Dr. Lawrence Madoff was quoted discussing how web searches, medical records and networks of local volunteers are enabling faster control of infectious disease outbreaks.
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This year marks the centenary of the start of the Spanish flu pandemic, which involved a strain of flu virus known as H1N1 that killed up to 5% of the world’s population. The world is now much better prepared for such threats, as shown by the international reaction to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, which was coordinated by a global network of laboratories that perform clinical testing. Yet the response was not swift enough to fully contain the pandemic, which claimed the lives of about 250,000 people in the first 12 months (F. S. Dawood et al. Lancet Infect. Dis. 12, 687–695; 2012).
Lawrence Madoff, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, sees such delays as being an inherent constraint of conventional lab-based surveillance strategies. “They’re limited by their tendency to have rigid structures and count specific cases, and by a bureaucratic slowness that gets built into the system,” he says.