"We didn't do it, so it doesn't count"?
A Washington state biosurveillance firm raised the first warning about a possible outbreak of swine flu in Mexico more than two weeks before the World Health Organization offered its initial alert about a public health emergency of international concern.
Both federal and international health officials had access to the warning from Veratect. Later e-mails calling attention to the company's subsequent report that the disease was possibly spreading in Mexico were sent to 10 officials of the Centers for Disease Control, said Robert Hart, the company's chief executive.
CDC officials in Atlanta said they were aware of Veratect's claims and had not been working with the company.
"We have nothing to add about their claims," said CDC spokesman Llelwyn Grant, adding the CDC and other public health agencies had plans in place to deal with a flu pandemic and responded rapidly once they became aware of the Mexican outbreak.
Which is the critical point: 'once they became aware'. Some good reason to pass up checking this out? Expense, maybe?
Earlier this year, Hart said Veratect gave free access to its Web site to the CDC and WHO on a trial basis.
So they got it free, not cost then.
First thought would be standard CDC arrogance: "It isn't information WE found, so it should be ignored." Back when I first became interested in viruses, among the books I read were a couple by CDC scientists; I can't remember the titles offhand, but let's just say they didn't exactly come across as concerned with the thoughts or opinions of anyone who didn't have advanced degrees. That they approved of. From the right schools. I understand those folks are busy, but to be given a "Something odd is happening" heads-up and apparently ignore it... Not good.
Here's another interesting part:
Others, however, cautioned the use of data mining to track a possible disease outbreak was untested and a number of questions about its effectiveness remained unanswered.
"This approach is not yet vetted," said Dr. Marguerite Neill, an infectious disease specialist at Brown University and a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. "It is an interesting idea, but we haven't used it before."
Neill said the problem with using information picked up through data mining was determining whether it was just an indication of a routine disease outbreak or something much more serious.
"It needs to be put in a clinical or epidemiological context," she said. "I'm not sure Veratect can do that."
Uh, doc? They're in the business of providing information; it would be your job to decide if it's a problem or not. And it would be your job to put it in a clinical or epidemiological context; they're just providing the information they dig up. Maybe I'm being overly critical on this, but that comment 'we haven't used it before' would seem to indicate more of the 'WE didn't think of it/do it, so it's not really something to consider' attitude. Which really sucks.
Unrelated to the above thoughts is this:
Veratect's warnings came as President Obama prepared for his a trip to Mexico, arriving in Mexico City on April 16. The White House said Thursday an Energy Department staffer who was part of the advance team for Obama's visit is suspected of having contracted swine flu in Mexico and transmitting it to his family in Maryland. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the man, who was not identified, never got within six feet of the president.
Unless he sneezed, of course...