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A new medical intelligence system has been developed to update European health authorities on public health threats.

The European Commission said it has created the web based system to provide health authorities with real time information about disease outbreaks, industrial accidents, and major incidents such as a bioterrorist attack. Its aim is to help health authorities identify incidents as early as possible and react quicker.

Called MediSys, the system constantly collects and sorts information from more than 1,000 news and 120 public health websites in 32 languages.

Traditional surveillance systems already monitor a number of trends, including death rates, the use of health services, abnormal patterns, changing laboratory characteristics, and exposure to risks from the environment, food or animals. But while certain public or animal health threats may be reported in local press or by other lesser known sources, they may go unnoticed by the wider community.

MediSys has been developed to address the shortcoming by providing health authorities with comprehensive updates on all public health threats.

Using predefined keywords and combinations, the system crawls through the web and sorts information into three primary categories: diseases, bioterrorism, and other threats. Articles or "hits" are then classified into more precise categories, such as AIDS-HIV, respiratory infections, avian flu, legionella, anthrax, or nuclear safety.

Breaking news is detected for each filtered category, which also includes its own statistics. Based on the level of retrieved hits and the detected keywords, an automatic alert can be sent by email and SMS to health authorities.

According to the commission, the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK caused MediSys to detect a sudden jump in news reports. As a result, the system sent email and SMS alerts to public health officials across Europe.

The University of Helsinki has also helped the commission set up an automatic incident detection system. This analyses English reports and extracts data on the number of cases, the location, and the date. Data is then fed into an automatic incident database used by member states.

The tool, which offers alert statistics, articles in several languages, and email alerts, is also available to citizens.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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