Thursday, June 14, 2007

New software to predict, even prevent outbreaks

NST: IPOH: Computer technology has been roped in to tackle the possible spread of the bird flu disease.
The Perak Veterinary Services Department (VSD) has turned to the recently launched Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM) to predict transmission of the dreaded disease in the country as well as in the region.
STEM is an open-source software developed by International Business Machines Corp and the Eclipse Foundation.
The department hopes to create epidemiological models to show how the bird flu is likely to spread geographically over time.
It will be conducting several trial runs over the next few days to draw up definitive perimeters needed to predict the pattern of the next recurrence.
"The recurrence of bird flu outbreaks since 2004 has been a worrying trend both for the poultry farmers and the general public.
"Although the state veterinary departments as well as the health authorities have been vigilant, there is no saying how, when or where the next outbreak is going to occur.
"We hope that by applying STEM we will be able to predict future outbreaks more accurately," said Perak VSD assistant veterinary officer A. Muniandy at the state veterinary department headquarters here yesterday.
He said once the bird flu epidemiological models had been developed, the information could then be shared with other public health officials.
Bird flu had been detected in eight areas to date. The first outbreak was near Kota Baru, Kelantan, in 2004, followed by Setapak in Kuala Lumpur in February last year.
A month later, the virus was detected in four areas in Perak: Kampung Redang Sawa, Kampung Changkat Tualang, the Ecopark at the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, and Agricultural Training Institute in Titi Gantung.
In the same month, after the outbreaks in Perak, bird flu reared its ugly head in Kampung Permatang Bogak, Seberang Prai Utara.
The latest outbreak is in Kampung Paya Jaras Hilir, Selangor.
Despite the outbreaks, Malaysia has been lucky as there had not been any reported cases of human bird flu victims.
"We cannot take chances with human lives and we cannot continue to rely on surveillance and sample testings.
"All this while, we only came to know about bird flu infections after the virus had spread among livestock, and after samples taken from the affected areas tested positive.
"But with STEM, we hope to prevent an outbreak," Muniandy said.
The STEM application has built-in geographical data for almost every country in the world.
It comes with information about country borders, population, shared borders, interstate highways, state highways, and airports.
According to an Internet review of the software, STEM is capable of running on any operating system, and creates a graphical representation of the spread of a disease, based on parameters like population, geographic and macro-economic data, roadmaps, airport locations, travel patterns and even bird migratory routes.

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