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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Atlantic County First in NJ to Adopt Disease Tracking System

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson announced today that the county has added a new line of defense against bioterrorism with the recent launch of a new disease-tracking system using Real-time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) technology.

Last month, the Atlantic County Division of Public Health became the first local health agency in the state to use RODS in tracking over-the-counter sales of healthcare products at select area pharmacies. This process allows health officials to watch for unusual patterns of health problems. A sudden peak in the sale of certain nonprescription medicines such as cough and cold remedies or anti-diarrheal preparations could indicate a disease outbreak or bioterrorist attack.

"The need to establish an ongoing disease surveillance system was one of the recommendations of our Public Health Emergency Preparedness Task Force. The task force identified the need to track and report on unusual disease occurrences and report outbreaks. This new technology will greatly increase our knowledge of local health trends and enhance our ability to identify and respond to public health emergencies," explained Levinson.

The RODS system, which includes the pharmaceutical program called the National Retail Data Monitor, was created by University of Pittsburgh researchers in 1999. RODS differs from other disease-monitoring systems in that it allows health officials to monitor information in real time. Rather than wait for weekly or monthly reports, county health officials now receive daily updates on regional over-the-counter medicine sales.

In addition to tracking nonprescription medicine sales, RODS can also monitor patient symptoms in hospital emergency rooms. The Division of Public Health hopes to soon include regional hospitals in the Atlantic County surveillance system using RODS technology.

After observing a demonstration of the RODS program last year, President Bush called the system "a critically useful tool for America." RODS designers expect more health departments throughout the country to adopt the system in the coming months.

For more information about RODS call the Atlantic County Division of Public Health at 609-645-5935.

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