The Commonwealth Health Care Corp. is ratcheting up efforts to detect COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in the Commonwealth by adding to its regular surveillance efforts a pilot program called BioFire, which is a laboratory diagnostic tool.
Through BioFire, CHCC is implementing the first public health-specific laboratory diagnostic tool for infectious diseases. It is a public health tool that is designed for syndromic surveillance, which is a method that relies on detection of an individual and population health indicators that can detect an illness before it is confirmed and is capable of testing for a variety of pathogens in less than an hour.
Syndromic surveillance is based on two features of a disease, which are symptoms such as sore throat or an upset stomach and a sign of a measurable indication of disease such as having a body temperature of 102ºF. A syndrome is a set of signs and symptoms that occur together.
Some diseases can cause very similar signs and symptoms, especially in the early stages. Gastroenteritis—which can cause cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting—can be caused by different pathogens.
Should the CHCC notice a number of patients with these symptoms, BioFire can be utilized to test for a common cause. This will reduce CHCC’s reliance on off-island laboratory testing.
This tool cannot test for cases of COVID-19, but it can test for other respiratory pathogens that will make it easier to rule out COVID-19 in a patient who is experiencing respiratory symptoms.
One way that CHCC staff can monitor suspected or confirmed cases is by a Center for Disease Control and Prevention text-based illness monitoring system that the CDC uses for health issue management. The CNMI is now undergoing a pilot project of TIM that was launched last March 10.
“CHCC continues to implement CNMI-wide surveillance, prevention, and health messaging,” said CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muña.
According to Warren Villagomez, director of PHEPP, the TIM system was used on people who participated in the Saipan Marathon. SIM cards for the TIM system were provided by the Marianas Visitors Authority and will take account of people during the marathon and after their departure from the CNMI for a 14-day monitoring.
“We are doing everything to assure the community that we are a low-risk island,” said Villagomez.
This effort is on top of regular surveillance efforts that allow the CHCC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Program under the Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program, to swiftly respond to disease outbreaks based on confirmed or suspected cases, in order to reduce the effects on the population and prevent more people from getting infected.