Veratech Inc. Warned Clients About Swine Flu Outbreak April 6

Veratech Inc. is on the cutting edge when it comes to searching the web for signs of pandemics. The two-year-old company had a hunch two weeks ago that something was up, a week before the CDC and WHO. How is that possible?

“In this rapidly evolving outbreak, early intervention can mean the difference between life
and death for people in countries potentially affected by swine influenza. We want to
provide Veratect’s services to everyone concerned about this outbreak so they can have the
information they need to respond in a timely and effective manner,” said Robert (Bob)
Hart
, president and CEO.

The company combines computer algorithms with human analysts to monitor online and off-line sources for hints of disease outbreaks and civil unrest worldwide. Tracking ‘events’ the company ranks them for severity and posts them on their site for the paying clients who want in on early warnings.

In the past week Veratect and other companies that work with the same goal have been getting more clients.

They are able to track information about possible outbreaks by using blogs, online chat rooms, Twitter feeds and news media and government Web sites are full of data that public health agencies to see if there is a potential hot spot, often before the agencies can see a pattern forming.

The swine flu is a case in point. Veratect had posted a report to their clients on April 6 when there was an unusual number of respiratory illnesses in Veracruz, the new known epi-center of the outbreak. They also sent an email to the Centers of Disease Control on April 16 pointing out an outbreak of atypical l pneumonia in Oaxaca state when officials issues an alert.

Yahoo Tech
reports:

“Playing the blame game is one of those indicators” that something unusual is going on, said Dr. James Wilson, Veratect’s chief scientist. When the company posted the La Gloria information, it treated the incident as a matter of “moderate severity.”

Of course there are some glitches with the program. Veratect reported that a Canadian lawyer was hospitalized in March with the swine flu after a trip to Mexico. That turned out to be wrong.

Still the company had already given their clients a head up before the world health authorities were on the case in a public way.

Dr. Scott Dowell, who heads the CDC’s international swine flu team, admits that his agency looks at the reports from companies like Veratech while monitoring outbreaks around the world. He says that Veratect is often useful about emerging threats.

Veratech leans towards the business client. They work with corporate, financial services, non government organizations, insurance and government agencies.

Veratect has less than 50 employees but that may be changing. They are actively looking for high-end employees.

The company is on twitter and gives updates often. Recent updates include:

* Spain: Number of confirmed swine influenza cases rises to four; most recent in Bilbao. #swineflu 11 minutes ago
* Costa Rica: Health Minister states laboratory results on a third “highly probable case” will be available soon. #swineflu 15 minutes ago
* Costa Rica: Second confirmed swine influenza case is a 29-year-old male who recently returned from Mexico. #swineflu 16 minutes ago

Paulette Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the company Veratech answered the following questions for Digital Journal:

Can the average person become one of your clients?

Veratect’s service is geared towards federal and non-government organizations (NGOs) and Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industry sectors. However, the average the person can follow information provided by Veratect on disease outbreak and civil unrest via twitter.

How much does your service cost?

The cost will vary depending on how many reports and organization wishes to receive and the level of monitoring they need.

Do you send your information to public health groups (like the CDC) for free?

For this particular crisis (Swine Influenza), they are sending information for free.

Ms. Zimmerman also sent a pdf. file of James M. Wilson MD’s testimony in front of Homeland Security to Digital Journal.

James M. Wilson MD, Chief Technical Officer and Chief Scientist for Veratech addressed the Home Homeland Security Committee on July 16, 2008 about developing the art and science of timely, accurate, sensitive and specific detection and warning for disease – early enough to do something
about it before it enters the global transportation and commerce grid.

During the winter
of 2006 and 2007, the team issued nearly 3,000 event reports across 128 countries and 27
languages, which included 181 Advisories, 58 Watches, and 38 Warnings. Our team
identified hundreds of reports of a type A / H3N2 influenza virus that appeared to have
drifted away from the current vaccine strain of H3N2 beginning in early January 2007 in
Beijing, China, six weeks prior to the WHO Consultation on the Composition of
Influenza Vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere. We later found similar reports in a
multitude of countries and collaboratively worked with CDC to track this important
finding. The value of this information was validated when the World Health
Organization and its partners recommended a change in the southern hemisphere
influenza vaccine to include an updated H3N2 strain.

Veritech had at the time (2007) an estimated coverage of 82% of the world’s population now, in near real time. By the end of 2008, we will have expanded this coverage to more then 90%. (which they have done so)

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