Better Disease Tracking System Could Limit the Impact of Bioterrorism, SLU Prof Says

Article ID: 593397

Released: 7-Sep-2012 4:55 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Saint Louis University Medical Center

Expert Pitch
  • Alan Zelicoff, M.D. is director of SLU's Institute for Biosecurity

St. Louis - Eleven years after the 2001 bioterrorism-related anthrax attacks that shook the nation, Alan Zelicoff, M.D., director of The Institute for Biosecurity at Saint Louis University says the country has still not learned its lesson.

"The key requirement for mitigating the effects of a bioterrorism attack is early detection and diagnosis," Zelicoff said. "Our current disease detection system is still hobbled by slow transfer of information to public health officials who might otherwise be able to determine unusual patterns or disease that suggests a bioterror attack."

Zelicoff said current data mining approaches are passive and don't provide immediate solutions to the emergencies at hand. He proposes an electronic, clinician-based reporting system that would have the capacity to limit the impact of a bioterrorism attack. "We need a nationwide but locally-operated real-time disease surveillance system," Zelicoff said. "Nobody knows about the local health system better than the local public health officials."

BackgroundAlan Zelicoff is a physician (board certified in Internal Medicine 1992, clinical fellowship in Rheumatology, 1983) and physicist (AB Princeton, 1975), who has had a varied career including clinical practice, teaching, and operations research. In the latter roles, he was Senior Scientist in the Center for National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratories from 1989 - 2003. Dr. Zelicoff's interests include risk and hazard analysis in hospital systems and office-based practice, and in technologies for improving the responsiveness of public health offices and countering biological weapons terrorism.

Dr. Zelicoff has traveled extensively in countries of the former Soviet Union and has led joint research projects in epidemiology of infectious disease, while establishing Internet access at Russian and Kazak biological laboratories. The result of this activity is a real-time clinician-based disease surveillance and reporting system called the Syndrome Reporting Information System (SYRIS) which is now being used by public health officials responsible for monitoring the health of more than 1.25 million people in Texas and countless agricultural animals and wildlife as well.

Zelicoff is the author of: "Microbe: Are we ready for the next Plague?" published by AMACOM Books. And his latest book is "More Harm than Good", a practical look at the reasons for costly medical practice in the United States. He is the author of numerous medical and public health text book chapters, and is a frequent contributor to Op-Ed pages in the Washington Post, Albuquerque Journal and other newspapers.

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