New IT tools to track swine flu

CDC, FDA team to monitor, educate the public about H1N1

Just in time for flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun using new information technology tools to track how and where seasonal influenza and H1N1 flu infections are spreading fastest and to educate the public about treatment.

On Oct. 9, the CDC announced a new flu surveillance system that will include data on flu symptom-related emergency room visits. The system, called Distribute, aggregates information from multiple hospital emergency rooms that state and local health departments collect. Created with academic and global partners, Distribute provides details about the location of flu outbreaks and which age groups are being affected most severely.

In addition, in conjunction with Harris and Cisco Systems, the CDC recently demonstrated the secure exchange of public health information on the federal Nationwide Health Information Network.

The pilot project aggregated flu symptom data from Indiana, New York and Washington state. To protect privacy, the data was encrypted in transit and stored in a cloud computing application. The solution is “ideal for health exchanges and hospitals and other providers that want to use existing technology and quickly bridge to the NHIN,” said Jim Traficant, vice president of health care solutions at Harris.

The CDC is also using Web 2.0 technology to educate the public about H1N1 flu. The agency is partnering with the Food and Drug Administration to create a Web-based widget that allows users to search an FDA database of products that make fraudulent claims for treating H1N1 flu.

The CDC launched three other widgets in April and May. One offers tips, facts and news about the H1N1 flu; another is designed to help higher education institutions deal with the disease; and the third focuses on guidance for elementary and secondary schools.

The programming code for the widgets is available on the CDC’s site so users can embed them into their Web sites. So far, the widgets have been embedded into about 1,400 Web sites and have had about 4.8 million views, said Fred Smith, technology team lead for interactive media at CDC’s eHealth Marketing division.

“We look at widgets as being a part of the continuum of our Web 2.0 strategies,” Smith said. “We have RSS feeds, podcasts and widgets to make CDC content portable. It lets organizations take content from us and deliver it to audiences on other Web sites.”

About the Authors

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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