Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

February 05, 1999

New technology will help pinpoint disease outbreaks

University of Guelph researchers have received a $375,000 Health Canada grant to develop a database program to help pinpoint causes of disease outbreaks.

The first-of-its-kind project will link animal health, food safety and human health data to speed up the identification and evaluation of disease outbreak sources. For example, if Health Canada was trying to determine the cause of a Salmonella outbreak in humans, the database would specify any related outbreaks in farm or pet animals and related contaminated food products.

"Time is key in these events -- people can become very ill or die during disease outbreaks -- so speedy recognition and evaluation are critical," said Beverly McEwen, one of the project co-ordinators from the University's Animal Health Laboratory.

The grant was awarded by Federal Health Minister Allan Rock through Health Canada's Health Infostructure Support Program (HISP), which supports the use of new technologies in health. The grant will be used for hardware, software and computer expertise.

The 18-month pilot project involves developing a software program that will help standardize data gathered at Health Canada and the University's Animal Health Laboratory and Food Microbiology Laboratory. "Sometimes health events occur in the animal population before they begin to happen in the human population," McEwen said. "Health Canada could use animal health data as sentinel information to determine if possible relationships exist between human health events and animals."

The information will be shared among the University, Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The program is based on Health Canada's Canadian Integrated Public Health Surveillance System. Currently, the sharing of information is a labour-intensive process that often involves a lot of paperwork and duplication, said Frank Pollari, a veterinary epidemiologist with Health Canada. "People are enthused about this project because they can see the benefit of shared data," said Pollari, who is working with McEwen on the project.

"Health Canada, OMAFRA and the University have a good working relationship already," McEwen added. "By having this system in place, we'll be speaking a common language, the data will be available and it will be available quickly."

Joseph Odumeru, of the University's Laboratory Services, will co-ordinate the food safety data for the project. "The information provided will translate into health care decisions that will benefit all Canadians," he said. McEwen noted such a project has not been undertaken in any other province or in the United States. "We are at the forefront of technology and are the first to bring together different groups willing to share this data."

Contact: Beverly McEwen, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 4537. For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, Ext. 3338.

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