By Arianna Maugeri
A newly biosurveillance system designed to track the spread of the flu virus has shown that Brentwood in western suffolk, was being hit the hardest with the flu this season.
The system gathers information from hospitals, interprets the data and then uses the information to determine disease activity. It uses key words and phrases such as “sore throat” or “fever” to target the symptoms that best describe the disease in question. Northwell Health, a not-for-profit network of hospitals, unveiled the computer model system on Jan. 30.
“Brentwood and Dix Hills, followed by Elmont and Valley Stream have the heaviest concentration of influenza like illness,” Mark Swenson, an emergency management coordinator at Northwell who helped develop the system, said.
One of the biggest issues that hospital staff finds this season is that people are not getting vaccinated against the flu. “More patients that have the flu weren’t vaccinated,” Andy Garcia, pediatric nurse on Long Island, said.
“A total of 84 influenza-associated pediatric deaths for the 2017-2018 flu season have been reported,” reads the Summary of Weekly FluView Report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC also reported that among pediatric flu deaths this season, only 26% of children eligible for vaccination had received any flu vaccine before they got sick. Flu activity is likely to remain elevated for several more weeks, perhaps extending into March and April.
Garcia has not experienced supply shortages, but pharmacies are reporting shortages in Tamiflu, a prescription medicine used to treat the flu. Tamiflu can also reduce the chance of getting the flu in people 1 year and older. Shortages of necessary medications can be greatly reduced by the speed at which the technology can get information to hospitals. Hospitals know exactly what they need before they need it, allowed them to better manage their resources before they feel the brunt of the case rate, Swensen said.
“Get the shot. Parents don’t believe in the flu shot because they say it doesn’t always work,” Garcia said.
Cesar Cervantez, who works as a construction worker, been sick for a month. “All of my co-workers were sick,” Cervantez said, “I had chest pain and spit blood once.” Despite his illness Cervantes refused to see a doctor and brought the disease home. His wife, Cecilia Munoz, has also been exposed to the flu.
“I’m waiting to get better in order to get the vaccine,” Munoz said. “Right now I’m drinking lots of orange juice.” Sometimes liquor helps as well, Munoz said.
Biosurveillance could provide insight into other infectious diseases as well, Swenson said. The goal of the computer model is to learn as much as possible about different types of diseases.
“We can apply this system to other diseases by using different keywords to target specific diseases,” Swensen said.
Northwell Health has no plans to integrate with other hospitals but they do plan to share the information they get from the system with other healthcare facilities so other hospitals can be prepared.