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Bio-surveillance Technology: The Difficulty

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Biology
Wordcount: 2106 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Bio-surveillance technology is used in the United States to detect potential threats to human health which includes acts of terrorism, accidental environmental exposures and disease outbreaks. The most promising bio-surveillance technical developments will include a combination of approaches to determine the most cost-efficient detection techniques as well as new tools for the earliest possible identification of potential harmful pathogens. For this technology to be effective, collected data is dependent upon time restraints, proper analysis and interpretation from a federal, local and state level.  Proper analysis and interpretation are critical for obtaining early warning of health risks, presence of disease, pathogens, and/or a potential bioterrorist attack.

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There is a present need for developing bio-surveillance technology capabilities within government agencies. This technology should be used to disseminate information or biological threats across multiple agencies.  To effectively use this developed technology, the United States must develop predictive models that allow for fast detection rates, the ability to prioritize search efforts and contain databases of information to measure the probability of detecting pathogens within a given location or timeframe. Additionally, to guarantee that this technology will continue to advance as new technologies emerge, the United States must employ individuals with special training for designing and implementing technical methods for the detection and identification of biosecurity risk and pathogens. Bio-surveillance technology should not be limited to detection measures and should be able to identify foreign pathogens within the environment, confirm the geographic source of foreign pathogens, identify potential bio-security issues and measure risk pathways.

Major Challenges: Federal, State and Local levels

The United States face terrorist threats and other biological threats to human, animal and plant health requiring the need for constant environmental monitoring for pathogens and any other biological agents that cause disease. Bio-surveillance techniques combine public health surveillance and focuses on methods for data collection and analysis for disease detection. This technology requires a continuous process, such as continuous data collection, analysis or retrieved data that confirms outbreaks and notifies decision makers. 

Government organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security, Center for Disease Control (CDC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Defense, the World Health Organization, and local and state sectors all conduct Bio-surveillance. It is up to the public health authorities to help improve the standards and relationships among federal, state and local public health organizations to successfully obtain health and disease tracking information. This collaboration between organizations will allow the improvement of access to health data, allow quicker assessments of population health indicators and provide public health officials with the proper information needed to develop novel Bio-surveillance technologies.

Bio-surveillance at a federal level is responsible for the collection, examining, and disseminating national disease occurrence to the local health departments, as well as the general public.  Bio-surveillance is important at a federal level for proper dissemination however the individual state and local surveillance programs are the foundation for the success of the bio-surveillance systems. The reports from the state health departments and local agencies report situational awareness to the federal government.  This strategy unfortunately involves the distribution of requirements from the bottom to the top and often threatens the state and local financial resources. The state and local levels need to establish secure funding to successfully build a national strategy for bio-surveillance technologies. The state and local levels need to ensure that monetary resources are available to employ and maintain experienced individuals to operate bio-surveillance programs and technologies.

Environmental Biological Detection Technologies

There is a need to develop and maintain novel bio-surveillance technologies for monitoring pathogen activity and emerging health threats. “Currently, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research have developed ESSENCE (Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-Based Epidemics)”. (Lombardo et al., 2003, p. i39). The system ESSENCE uses algorithms to evaluate International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9) diagnosis codes retrieved from outpatient and emergency room visits. These codes are collected into pattern groups to monitor emerging threats to human health which includes acts of terrorism, accidental environment exposures and disease outbreaks.

Previous years used a system referred to as BioWatch which was designed by the Federal Government in 2001. This system was used to detect biological aerosol attacks by analyzing the release of pathogens in air samples.  This program was instituted due to an increased number of bioterrorism threats. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the warning network of sensors to detect biological attacks.  Any results from BioWatch would be analyzed by the CDC and passed along to the FBI for further evaluation. BioWatch has become obsolete, causing a high number of false positives. This high rate of false positives did not alert safety measures or evaluations deeming the program a failure. Development of a third generation of BioWatch technology (Gen-3) has been proposed. This technology will reduce the time in recognizing the presence of five biological agents within the air simultaneously. (Jenkins, 2012, p 1).

Preparedness and Further Research


Bio-surveillance technology is successfully using prediction tools and complex algorithms to detect and interpret surveillance data. This technology is important to national security however the economic benefits must outweigh the false alerts and negatives to continue to protect communities from harmful pathogens. Further research can include the remotely monitoring of human, animal and plant health status. The space program had developed remote monitoring, to monitor vital functions through image analysis. Bio-surveillance technology should also incorporate communication within local and state governmental agencies to allow access of electronic reporting of health information to social media to facilitate rapid information sharing both globally and domestic. Linking syndromic data to patient triage notes and medical charts would significantly increase the value of bio-surveillance techniques in the event of an outbreak and reduce the burden of the investigation by the health department staff. A fast and diagnostic test can be developed that can identify infected individuals to isolate contagious people from healthy individuals.




Bio-surveillance technology was developed to protecting the health and safety of Americans. There is an imperative need to continue to develop fast and reliable awareness on emerging risks. The future of bio-surveillance depends on a variety of factors which include population growth, globalization of travel and bioterrorism.  Presently, syndromic surveillance systems have been considered more of a concern than a benefit suggesting that this technology has the ability to direct terrorists to attack other cities without protection and awareness.

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Syndromic surveillance systems such as Essence and BioWatch were designed to provide early warning systems of potential catastrophic events. Maintenance needs to be reoccurring on these systems to demonstrate a clear evaluation of environmental threat detections to determine continued utilization. As of right now, the rate of failure has been proven to be unreliable and is causing the instrumentation of the technologies to rise, but in due time technology will catch up to the needs of bio-surveillance. With our most innovative adversary, the Russian Federation repeatedly violating the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the United States must be prepared to defend the American people against their alleged offensive biological weapons program. Since the BWC considers it a violation for any nation to have an offensive bio-weapons program, the United States must be prepared to mitigate attacks from biological strains that were developed by the Russia Federation and the former Soviet Union which could be utilized by both state and non-state actors on their behalf.




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