A team of epidemiologists and computer scientists from the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study have developed a new software program, called TranStat, to aid early detection of infectious disease outbreaks.
According to the team, the newly released software program will enable health authorities at the site of an infectious disease outbreak quickly analyse data, speeding the detection of new cases and the implementation of effective interventions.
"A main goal of MIDAS is to make the models developed by the researchers available to the public health community and policymakers. "TranStat is a great example of how MIDAS is providing tools to help communities prepare for emerging infectious disease outbreaks," said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) component that funds MIDAS.
The new software program can be used by public health officials to systematically enter and store infectious disease data, which include details about the infected individuals, such as their sex, age, and onset of symptoms; their close contacts; and any interventions they might have received.
TranStat also prompts the field personnel to enter details about exposed but uninfected individuals. The system does not collect names or other personally identifying information.
The program uses this information to statistically determine the probability that people contracted the disease from each other, a driving factor in the spread of infections.
TranStat also estimates in real time the average number of people an individual could infect and the rate at which that infection occurs in a particular setting. This information can help health officials develop and swiftly implement strategies that thwart further spread while they conduct additional studies.
"We've made TranStat portable and easy to use, so field officers can enter, edit, and analyse data as an outbreak progresses," said Diane Wagener, Ph.D., a program manager at RTI International, an independent, non-profit research organization in Research Triangle Park, N.C., which helped develop the user interface.
Ira Longini, Ph.D., a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle, led the research behind the new computer program.
He and his research team have used the underlying methods and software to determine that the H5N1 avian flu virus probably spread between members of an extended family in Indonesia in 2006. According to the results, the transmission was not sustained.
"The faster we learn about emerging infectious diseases and their characteristics, the quicker we can contain and mitigate them. TranStat will help us do this by standardizing data collection and analysis," Longini said.
Future software enhancements that will allow field personnel to enter more refined data about the affected population and their social networks are under way.
The study is published in the September 2007 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.