Local Stories
9:44 am
Tue August 5, 2014

UNR opens infectious disease forecasting center

Credit University of Nevada School of Medicine

As the ebola virus continues to spread in West Africa, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno are opening a center to forecast infectious disease activity across the state. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that Nevada is the first state to do this.

There are hundreds of diseases the center is already starting to track--everything from skin and ear infections to sinusitis and strep throat. Dr. James Wilson, the director, says the goal is to anticipate a surge in a particular disease, so that his staff can launch prevention campaigns before danger strikes. Helping people avoid an illness would ultimately save vital resources.

"The ripple effect that some of these diseases can have," Wilson says, "in the healthcare provider system, in terms of long wait times, ambulance diversions, acutely sucking down resources like ventilators and critical care staff time--if we can mitigate any of that, that's a benefit to the community."

Researchers at the center will look at previous disease patterns to predict future concerns. Wilson says his staff is also looking at what's happening around the globe to determine if disasters in other countries could pose a threat here:

"What are the implications of the deterioration of the ebola disaster in West Africa? How are we or are we not connected to that disaster? What is the possibility of having a traveler coming in from a risk area and then shutting down the main emergency department in our city while they evaluate that case?"

Wilson says those are some of the questions his staff is addressing right now.

Along with global health concerns, the center will also factor in Nevada's unique vulnerabilities, such as the international tourism hub of Las Vegas. The state could prevent the spread of infectious diseases by strategically planning where it builds tourism partnerships.

"China is the number one country in the world that we worry about," Wilson explains, "for an unrecognized pathogen to emerge and cause tremendous disruption throughout the world."

Despite the attention on ebola right now, Wilson says an unrecognized strain of the flu emerging from China remains a larger concern. The new center plans to share its first forecast later this month and will soon be launching a website as well.