TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

New geographic information system developed to track TB

Professor Frances Jamieson of the University of Toronto recently created an international surveillance tracking system of infectious diseases to equip medical officials with information about which treatment method is most effective against specific strains.

The system was created to address the urgency of drug-resistant tuberculosis, but can also be used for a wide range of infectious diseases. The system, called Ontario Universal Typing - Tuberculosis Web, is a powerful geographic information system that tracks which strain of TB a patient has been exposed to, where it came from and which medicines are effective against it.

"85 per cent of our cases in Ontario are foreign-born, so this system will allow us to have a global impact," Jamieson said. "We can identify and track existing and emerging strains of TB and this powerful technology can be applied to any type of infectious disease."

The OUT-TB combines patient data and demographics with a "fingerprint" of each TB strain. Health authorities are able to see a real-time geographic view of tuberculosis cases, clusters and potential outbreaks. It can also track if cases are related genotypically, geographically or epidemiologically.

"We tell the public health units what strain type of TB they have, what drug treatment is appropriate and we track whether the strain is drug-resistant," Jamieson said.

It is important for health officials to know if a strain is drug-resistant, so they know how to effectively treat an infection. Jamieson said a person can be infected for two years with drug-resistant TB strains since all first-line treatments can be ineffective.

Jamieson also said that sometimes a treatment method which usually works for a particular strain will not. Research is currently being conducted to understand how drug-resistance develops, if it can develop on an individual level and how a broad range of more effective drugs can be designed.