Technology plays vital role in detecting disease outbreaks



Under the revised International Health Regulations, governments have committed themselves to reporting outbreaks from the very outset and to confirming any reports of outbreaks in their country.

“An accurate diagnosis of the disease two months later doesn’t help you to control the outbreak, particularly with avian influenza” said Dr Thomas Grein, Medical Officer, Alert and Response Operations.

Scientists can make diagnoses early and promptly thanks to technologies developed over the last twenty years in biological research. These tools can identify an infectious agent in as little as half an hour, and due to mass production, they have become more affordable for developing countries. For example, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), a technique that can be used to detect particular infectious agents. Technological improvements have allowed PCR machines to be made smaller and more robust.

“We can diagnose influenza and dengue fever using PCR. The tests are cheap, each one costs as little as US$ 0.95,” said Professor Leonard Peruski, Jr., from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Thailand.

But while the technology is good, Peruski said there is a shortage of skilled staff to do these tests in isolated and rural parts of developing countries, and re-training and quality control are often inadequate.

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland