Illinois disease system starts

I-NEDSS site

Officials this month started rolling out the Illinois National Emergency Disease Surveillance System (I-NEDSS), part of a nationwide effort to improve infectious disease and bioterrorism tracking.

The state is starting with the local health departments in Chicago and suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Grundy, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, which cover the largest population centers. The rest of the state's 94 local health departments will be linked into the Web-based system by the middle of May, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced March 8.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control lead the development and deployment of the National Emergency Disease Surveillance System across the country. The system has been under development for some time to combat naturally occurring infectious disease, but the initiative in recent years has gained significance because of concerns about bioterrorism.

In Illinois, this rollout is only for the first phase of the system, which cost $1.5 million to develop. The full implementation will cost approximately $10 million and take four to five years, officials said.

I-NEDSS initially will let local health departments electronically report to the Illinois Department of Public Health on gastrointestinal diseases, such as salmonella and E. coli. In the past, local officials reported all of this information to the state through a paper process.

"We will be able to track outbreaks of ailments such as the flu, but we also can be alerted to possible biological attacks," said Dr. Eric Whitaker, state public health director, in a statement. "In the past, it may have taken days to notice a grouping of cases, but in the near future, we will know immediately that a hospital emergency department is seeing patients with similar symptoms."

Using the system -- which can be updated throughout the day to ensure the most accurate and timely information -- illnesses can be tracked through standard factors that could identify the spread of a disease, including the patient's zip code, street, county, symptoms and other factors.

Over the next few years, officials will add the ability to report on communicable diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases, until local health departments will be able to report electronically on all 77 state-mandated reportable diseases.

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