Dear ISDS members,

As announced at the annual Syndromic Surveillance conference in Baltimore, the International Society for Disease Surveillance (ISDS) submitted an unsolicited proposal to the CDC to conduct three projects.  Our application was successful, and for those of you who were unable to attend the conference, I wanted to give you an update on the work that this cooperative agreement will support. 

Cooperative Agreement
The CDC funding will be in the form of a supplement to CDC’s existing cooperative agreement with the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO).  Paula Soper, MPH, from NACCHO’s Public Health Preparedness Team will be involved in supporting the project. We are pleased to have this partnership with NACCHO given the involvement of local health departments in syndromic surveillance. In addition, we have had a conference call with Allen Craig, MD, who is the state epidemiologist in Tennessee and who heads the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) Surveillance Policy Committee, and have briefed him on the project.  

Project Staff
Others who will be involved in managing the activities include Marc Paladini, MPH, who will be joining the ISDS project full time and will remain based in New York City. Jim Buehler, MD from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta will be serving as a consultant to the project, and I will continue to serve as the Principal Investigator.  In addition, the ISDS Board will provide general project oversight, and we plan to establish an Advisory Board specifically for the CDC funded project.  The Tufts Health Care Institute will continue to provide the administrative base for the ISDS, and the project coordinator will be based at the Institute in Boston. 

The three project activities will be:

A.        Develop a proof-of-concept national influenza surveillance system using aggregate data for Emergency Department visits for Influenza-like Illness from existing syndromic surveillance systems developed by state or local public health departments.  Click here to view more information on this project. This project will evaluate the feasibility and utility of collecting limited data from existing syndromic surveillance systems as part of national influenza surveillance.  Based on preliminary discussions at the annual Syndromic Surveillance conference in October, the systems would initially be flexible in allowing participating sites to use whatever local syndrome criteria in their experience best tracks ILI trends, limited demographic data would be collected, an Internet-based system would be used to document data sources and display trends, and researchers who are ISDS members would have access to the data under specified terms. Marc Paladini will be heading this effort.  His initial outreach efforts have identified a number of health departments from around the country that have expressed enthusiastic interest in being a part of this project.  Interested parties can contact Marc for more information at [email protected].  

B.        Convene small group workshops on specific issues critical to advancing the science or practice of biosurveillance, including BioSense and other approaches to syndromic surveillance, both for purposes of early event detection or situational awareness.  The Society will establish a small-grant program, allowing members to submit  workshop proposals.  These will be evaluated on the merit of the importance of the question being addressed to either advancing the science or practice of biosurveillance and the capacity of the proposed workgroup participants to successfully develop specific and timely recommendations for filling a critical research or implementation gap.  The processes that CDC has convened in the past to develop the CDC/DoD criteria for defining syndrome categories or to develop guidance for evaluating syndromic surveillance systems exemplify the types of topics that would be appropriate to address.  The findings from these meeting would be published in the ISDS online journal, Advances in Disease Surveillance (, using a standard format, and presented at the annual Syndromic Surveillance conferences.  Jim Buehler will help manage this project.

C.        Develop a census of existing syndromic surveillance systems in the United States.  At a minimum, syndromic surveillance systems operated by state and local health departments will be a part of this census. This project will build on work that others have already done and will depend on efforts to minimize the reporting burden on health departments.  Paula Soper and Jim Buehler will be supporting this project. Anticipated uses of the census include: 1) assisting CDC to identify ways that BioSense could interact with existing SS systems that have been developed by state and local health depts., 2) assisting in the identification of surveillance resources that could be marshaled in the event of a natural or other disaster, 3) assisting in the development of the CDC-funded ISDS “proof of concept” project to harvest existing SS data and to test the utility of this approach for seasonal and potential pandemic influenza surveillance, 4) assisting health department staff in identifying colleagues in comparable states or localities who have systems that may be of interest and who may be useful resources in deciding whether and how to approach SS/biosurveillance development.

More to come.  We would welcome any thoughts or suggestions that you may have about this.  

Farzad Mostashari, MD, MSPH
President, ISDS