Skip to content Skip to navigation

Pitt Unlocks Public Health Data to Help Fight Contagious Diseases

December 2, 2013
by John DeGaspari
| Reprints
Project may serve as a model for making similar sets of public health data more broadly available

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health researchers have collected and digitized all weekly surveillance reports for reportable diseases in the United States going back more than 125 years.

The searchable database, called Project TychoTM, is described in the Nov. 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and is free and publicly available. It was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the goal of aiding scientists and public health officials in the eradication of deadly and devastating diseases.

The researchers selected eight vaccine-preventable contagious diseases for a more detailed analysis: smallpox, polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria and pertussis. By overlaying the reported outbreaks with the year of vaccine licensure, the researchers are able to give a clear, visual representation of the effect that vaccines have in controlling communicable diseases.

The researchers obtained all weekly notifiable disease surveillance tables published between 1888 and 2013—approximately 6,500 tables—in various historical reports, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. These tables were available only in paper format or as PDF scans in online repositories that could not be read by computers and had to be hand-entered. With an estimated 200 million keystrokes, the data—including death counts, reporting locations, time periods and diseases—were digitized. A total of 56 diseases were reported for at least some period of time during the 125-year time span, with no single disease reported continuously.   

All these data can be explored and retrieved by everyone on the Project Tycho Web site The open access release of these data has led to a collaboration with the United States Open Government Initiative and, in the near future, the Project Tycho database will be available on the Web pages. 




ONC National Coordinator Gets Live Look at Carequality Data Exchange

Officials from Carequality have stated that there are now more than 150,000 clinicians across 11,000 clinics and 500 hospitals live on its network. These participants are also able to share health data records with one another, regardless of technology vendor.

American Red Cross, Teladoc to Provide Telehealth Services to Disaster Victims

The American Red Cross announced a partnership with Teladoc to deliver remote medical care to communities in the United States that are significantly affected by disasters.

Report: The Business of Cybercrime in Healthcare is Growing

While stolen financial data still has a higher market value than stolen medical records, as financial data can be monetized faster, there are indications that there is ongoing development of a market for stolen medical data, according to an Intel Security McAfee Labs report.

Phishing Attack at Baystate Health Potentially Exposes Data of 13K Patients

A phishing scam at Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass. has potentially exposed the personal data of 13,000 patients, according to a privacy statement from the patient care organization and a report from MassLive.

New Use Cases Driving Growth in Health Data Exchange through Direct

In an update, DirectTrust reported significant growth in Direct exchange of health information and the number of trusted Direct addressed enabled to share personal health information (PHI) in the third quarter of 2016.

Insurers to CBO: Consider Private Insurers’ Data in Evaluations of Telemedicine

Eleven private insurers, including Aetna, Humana and Anthem, are urging the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to consider the experience of commercial insurers when evaluating the impact of telemedicine coverage in Medicare.