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New system tracks epidemic

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If an outbreak or epidemic happens during the Olympics, EPIC will track it down. It's a computer network designed to quickly identify the beginnings of illness, such as those caused by bioterrorism.

This new system is here because of the Olympics. But, as Science Specialist Ed Yeates reports, it will become a permanent resident even after the games have ended.

As part of a daily routine at the University of Utah's Redwood Clinic, Dr. Julie Day examines a patient, perhaps with unusual symptoms of a respiratory ailment.

The problem has been that under the old system, perhaps there is a physician in another clinic along the Wasatch Front who has a different patient with the same symptoms. But Dr. Day here never would have known about it.

But now, she enters the diagnosis into a computer system called EPIC. It's tied in with 70 other doctors at other clinics who are daily entering the same information on their patients.

The system immediately evaluates patterns or trends in illness which could raise a red flag - not in weeks - but just an hour or so.

Say a patient comes in to see Dr. Day with symptoms of adult chicken pox. Two doctors in two other clinics are seeing the same thing. With a rash and fever, is it chicken pox or something else?

"I could call and ask that a query be done and say is this showing up? Are we seeing fever and chicken pox in adults and that may in fact trigger that this in fact may not be chicken pox but a real bioterrorist event," Day said.

Even after the 2002 Winter Games have ended, EPIC will stay around as a permanent fixture to track illnesses like the flu.

Dr. Stephen Alder, of the U. Public Health Programs said, "One of the great concerns is that we're due for a flu pandemic. And this is a system which will allow us to look quickly to see if we have some reason to believe that there is a new strain in the community."

The system is also tied in with local health departments, allowing epidemiologists to track a variety of communicable diseases.

EPIC can also track which current medications are the most effective in treating a particular illness. Since it operates in real time, doctors quickly know whether to use an anti-viral drug or an antibiotic.