Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Syrup sales flag anthrax outbreak

16.04.2002


Over-the-counter cough medicines could give early warning of bioterrorism.



Tracking over-the-counter sales of cough medications for unseasonable surges could be a way of spotting imminent anthrax epidemics, say US researchers1.

In the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, scientists are working on ways to detect a biological attack quickly and so minimize its effects. Because a sore throat and cough are the first symptoms of anthrax, a large-scale attack could cause a 36% rise in sales of non-prescription cough lozenges and syrups, say Stephen E. Fienberg of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues. Their prediction model is based on two years’ worth of data from several hundred Pennsylvania stores.


Unfortunately, handfuls of cases, such as the clusters seen in the United States last autumn, would probably have little effect on such sales, Fienberg cautions. "You can’t expect to find a needle in a haystack." Fienberg’s team draw their conclusions from records of the onset of symptoms in one of the largest anthrax outbreaks ever reported. This accidental release of Bacillus anthracis spores from a military facility in Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1979 resulted in at least 79 cases of anthrax infection and 68 documented deaths.

There is still a long way to go, however, before scientists will know whether there is in practice any connection between symptoms and sales surges. As Fienberg concedes, "the data are crude and the approach could be refined". Monitoring medicine purchasing to catch a biological attack in its infancy is nonetheless "a good idea", says Barbara Rosenberg, chair of the Federation of American Scientists Working Group on Biological Weapons. The figures could be integrated with other types of information, such as reports from hospital emergency rooms and school attendance reports, she says.

One potential hurdle is how scientists might access data from big grocery chains "without compromising the privacy and confidentiality of the individual customers and without exposing the chain to its competitors in some unreasonable form", warns Rosenberg. But if concerns about privacy can be dealt with, says Fienberg, grocery-store vigilance might allow public-health workers to act quickly enough to prevent an epidemic.

References
  1. Goldenberg, A., Shmueli, G. & Caruana, A.R. Early statistical detection of anthrax outbreaks by tracking over-the-counter medication sales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 412, 5237 - 5240, (2002).


MEERA LOUIS | © Nature News Service

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Nanoparticles as a Solution against Antibiotic Resistance?
15.12.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests
14.12.2017 | Aalto University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>