Thursday, December 15, 2005


From the Syracuse Post-Standard:

Emergency room doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center have never seen a case of smallpox because the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease was virtually eradicated in 1980 by worldwide vaccination efforts.

But if someone walked in with the virus, the doctors could quickly identify it using a recently installed computer database containing more than 8,700 photos of smallpox and 500 other conditions.

Doctors and nurses can type in a list of symptoms and the database, known as VisualDx, quickly matches them with diseases. The software systems combine photos with text to help clinicians diagnose and treat diseases.

The system was purchased with a $20,700 federal grant arranged through the Onondaga County Health Department.

The U.S. government has been taking precautions to deal with the possibility of a deliberate release of smallpox since the anthrax attacks in 2001. In addition to rarely seen diseases such as smallpox and anthrax, VisualDx can be used to identify common, visually diagnosed conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases.

Using VisualDx is much quicker than leafing through dog-eared reference books, according to Neal Gracen, manager of clinical services in St. Joe's emergency room.

"Most physicians are not dermatologists," Gracen said. "When you see a funky rash, you don't know what it is. You're making a best guess. This improves your ability to make an educated determination."


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