CDC expanding disease detection center program to protect against emerging diseases

"Global health security is only as strong as the weakest link," Ray Arthur, Associate Director for Global Health at CDC National Center for Infectious Diseases, said as part of a presentation on the CDC's Global Disease Protection Plan at last week's 2010 BIO International Convention in Chicago.

To allow those weakest links to be better safeguarded against disease outbreaks, the CDC currently operates seven global disease detection centers in Thailand, Kenya, Guatemala, China, India, Egypt and Kazakhstan.

The regional centers are located in resource constrained locations that have been chosen in consultation with invited countries, internal experts and national and international partners.

Selection criteria for the disease detection centers includes the potential public health significance of the center on an area with a high population density, a history of infectious diseases or an expected potential for emerging diseases.

Country commitment is also taken into consideration. The host country needs to support and value a partnership with the CDC and actively engage in collaborative activities and identify new partners.

An established, effective working relationship with the CDC and support of CDC staff in-country is also needed as well as an established regional reach, meaning the host country must have the infrastructure and regional stature to serve as a regional resource.

Additionally, the host country should also have other U.S. government agencies and international partners operating in-country.

Arthur said that the CDC's goal is to expand to 18 global disease detection centers, including new locations in North America, South America, West Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to the centers, which have onsite capabilities to detect emerging diseases and enhance surveillance of existing diseases, Arthur said that CDC employs Internet event-based surveillance to catch emerging diseases.

The event-based surveillance center is used to detect disease occurrences in countries that have weak surveillance and reporting.

The center collects information about disease events from Internet-based media reports by utilizing sophisticated text-mining and multilingual translation systems. The center is fluent in 40 languages and monitors 228 countries by using a database of more than 10,000 sources, Arthur said.

Data is entered into a custom designed software application and is distributed daily in reports to CDC programs. Events of high importance are sent to CDC leadership.

Since the database was first employed in April 2007, 638 events and 714 updates on the events have been entered into the database.