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Olympic Lookout for Bioterrorism

January 11, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ University of Utah researchers will be monitoring patients’ conditions for any threat of bioterrorism during the Winter Olympics.

Since mid-October the researchers have been developing a system to check electronic medical records for abnormal patterns in patients’ symptoms that could signal a bioterrorism attack.

Called EPIC, the computer program performs a complex analysis of patient information, including X-rays, blood tests and lab results, vital signs including heart rate and temperature, as well as disease symptoms and diagnoses.

That could help doctors and nurses distinguish between a flu outbreak and an anthrax attack, said Dr. Kurt Hegmann, associate professor in the public health programs at the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

Flu symptoms can mimic those associated with an anthrax bacterial infection. And the Olympics are being held at the height of Utah’s flu season.

``Because it is a computer-based system ... it’ll all be right there at our fingertips,″ Hegmann said.

EPIC is a collaboration between the school’s community clinics and its public health programs. It was purchased from a Wisconsin company a few years ago to streamline patient data through a computer system and improve patient care.

After Sept. 11, researchers realized it also could be used to track and combat bioterrorism attacks and other contagious illnesses.

In addition to data gathered by the researchers, the state Health Department also analyzes information filed by local health departments. As a result, the state is able to track and combat infectious diseases throughout Utah, hopefully before they spread.

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