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Pandemic warning system keys on 'human factors'
Date:5/12/2009

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers are proposing a new system that would warn of an impending pandemic before the first case of disease emerged in a given population by detecting subtle signals in human behavior.

"The goal is a public information and awareness system for pandemic with the same level of credibility, timeliness and visibility as storm-warning icons presented on television screens," said Barrett Caldwell, a Purdue University associate professor of industrial engineering.

The system works by monitoring "event phases" of human behavior leading up to a pandemic, such as an increase in people purchasing flu-related medications or "foraging" on the Internet for certain types of information related to the flu.

Understanding these phases might be a way to overcome a fundamental hurdle in controlling pandemic: Conventional approaches require public-health officials to know when certain events leading to pandemic begin, Caldwell said.

"The problem with this requirement is that by the time you know an event has happened, it's often too late to do much about it," he said.

Caldwell and former Purdue industrial engineering doctoral student Sandra K. Garrett have proposed a new approach to warn the public of an impending pandemic.

"If you can recognize the triggers, the signals suggesting an event is likely to occur, you can start responding to it, gathering resources, preparing and mobilizing people," said Garrett, an assistant professor of industrial engineering at Clemson University. "Our basic research idea could be used for any pandemic, or even other types of disasters."

Garrett and Caldwell detailed the findings in a paper that will be presented June 2 at the Industrial Engineering Research Conference in Miami.

The paper shows how pre-pandemic events are separated into four categories of "human factors," or social behavior: a period during which it is first possible to detect signals
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Contact: Emil Venere
venere@purdue.edu
765-494-4709
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert

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