A regional health unit is getting a better grasp on potential West Nile infections through the use of a handheld tracking system.

Ontario’s Hastings & Prince Edward Counties Health Unit said it is building a new database

from scratch via Assur-H&S, an application developed by Calgary-based Carmina Technologies. The system is part of a surveillance program of birds, adult mosquitoes and larvae the unit is conducting in an area that includes cities like Belleville and neighbouring Trenton, Ontario. The team works in conjunction with local municipalities and conservation authorities to conduct its research.

Glen Hudgin, Hastings & Prince Edward Counties’ director of public health inspection, said select members of the team of approximately 18 people are using Assur-H&S on handhelds to collect the location, numbers, species, date and time of mosquito-related data. Prior to the use of handheld technology, this data would be collected and noted on paper then sent back to a lab where results would be recorded. In some cases, he said, the data is quite detailed: Larvae, for example, must include not only the location of breeding sites but a description of how large they are and what kind of area (like a catch basin, old tires or ditches) in which they were found.

“”There’s an awful lot of variation,”” he said, adding that the data is used to tell whether those exposed would be at low, medium or a high risk of catching West Nile.

Carmina vice-president of sales Paul Valeriote said Assur-H&S was designed as an adaptive development tool for end-users that takes a paper-based audit form and turns it into a database. Though not created specifically to deal with the West Nile situation, Valeriote said the system was ideally suited for municipal governments that are trying to automate various inspection programs.

“”In 99.999 per cent of the cases, they have only paper-based system,”” he said. “”In West Nile, nobody has a back-end database.””

Hudgin said Assur-H&S was customized according to a series of questions the health unit provided Carmina. The program staff is led through a series of questions as they make their inspections, a decision tree-style approach that helps them adjust to the paperless process.

“”The learning curve was fairly low,”” Hudgin said. “”We didn’t have to have a training course or anything.””

The health unit hopes its use of the tracking system will be the first steps towards greater information sharing among its regional counterparts, Hudgin said. Though its database remains local, he said it would be useful to know if there is a positive pool of West Nile near its boundaries. “”The human population (near that pool) could be close to our population, and people might visit from other areas.””

Valeriote said Carmina’s technology is also being adapted to a variety of other inspections. For food inspection, for example, the same decision structure might show an image of a skull on the handheld if food has gone bad, and this will initiate another series of actions. Hudgin said Hastings & Prince Edward Counties may also be able to use Assur-H&S for its rabies program.

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