Pittsburgh technology is playing a key role in tracking the swine flu, generating an avalanche of interest around the world and raising concerns about the future threat of the virus.
South Side-based Rhiza Labs
, with its web-based Flu Tracker mapping tool Rhiza Insight, has partnered with local biomedical research company Recombinomics
to monitor the data and spread of H1N1 around the globe.
And Recombinomics founder and president Dr. Henry Niman doesn’t like what he sees. Prepare yourself for some not-so-good news.
The spread of H1N1 is following a very similar path to the last outbreak of swine flu in 1918, which began with a mild pandemic in the late spring, waned during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere and returned with greater deadly force in the fall at the start of the subsequent flu season.
One third of the world’s population was infected in the 1918 outbreak, which killed three percent of the world’s population, says Dr. Niman who has studied the earlier virus is writing a scientific paper on the two pandemics.
Recombinomics studies the sequences of how viruses evolve over time through recombination, a process that assists in the development of new vaccines. Dr. Niman’s extensive research on the 1918 swine flu tells him that this present strain is following a similar path, yet is different in its ability to move from person to person “fairly efficiently.”
“The point that I’m making is not only do we need a vaccine for what exists, but what is likely to exist four to six months from now,” Dr. Niman says. “It’s still early, but this is something that everyone needs to monitor very closely.”
A hallmark of the 1918 virus was it tended to take the lives of younger people between 25 and 45, similar to the present flu pandemic. If the virus resurfaces this fall, the virus could contain properties of human flu as well as avain flu, he adds.
That’s where Rhiza, which specializes in web-based, dynamic data visualization tools, comes in. Unlike other systems currently in use, Dr. Niman's methodology tracks individual reports of suspected or confirmed flu cases using the media and official government statements. Rhiza’s map monitors the confirmed cases with pindrops.
The next big question, says Dr. Niman, is how many cases will surface in the Southern Hemisphere, which is only now entering flu season? History suggests H1N1 will travel south before returning north.
“So far it’s really tracking like 1918; if it doesn’t do anything in the southern hemisphere that would revise things.”
“We’re five days ahead of the CDC
in terms of tracking this,” explains Josh Knauer, CEO of Rhiza, whose company Web site was averaging 1,100 users per second this week. “The eyes of the world are on this as the most accurate predictor of what is coming. It’s a story of the Internet and the citizens who are coming together to help track this emergency faster than the government.”
To view Rhiza's FluTracker, click here
. To read more about Dr. Niman’s research, click here
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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dr. Henry Niman, Recombinomics; Josh Knauer, Rhiza LabsImage courtesy Rhiza Labs