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MDCH, Altarum Partner To Enhance Michigan's Disease Surveillance Systems

September 20, 2006

ANN ARBOR – Altarum Institute has been awarded a $750,000, three-year program to enhance and maintain the web-based Michigan Disease Surveillance System (MDSS) housed within the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH).

The MDSS system has more than 700 users across Michigan, including state and local public health officials, health care providers, and laboratories. The system provides a web-based disease surveillance tool that allows for the electronic gathering and geographic mapping of disease data, disease reports, and care assignments.

“Michigan takes great pride and comfort in knowing that we have one of the most advanced disease tracking tools in the nation,” said Janet Olszewski, MDCH Director. “The spread of infectious disease is a threat that commands the attention of policy makers and health professionals across America. Since 2004, MDSS has given Michigan capabilities to track emerging infections. Armed with that information, we can make much more rapid and effective decisions on how to respond, provide care to the sick, and protect the healthy.”

Altarum Institute, a nonprofit research institution, has provided technical support and program management services to the MDSS since it was first piloted in 2002.

“In partnership with the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan Department of Information Technology, we will be making the MDSS an even more potent tool for Michigan decision makers and health providers,” said Jim Lee, Altarum’s Program Manager for the MDSS. “Among several initiatives we will undertake is programming the system to track the introduction and potential spread of tuberculosis. We also will make it possible for hospital and commercial laboratories to securely and electronically report disease data, which improves health and saves money.”

The potential impact of a strong surveillance system is significant when considering diseases for which early identification and prevention measures may eliminate deaths, such as bacterial meningitis.

Since bacterial meningitis occurs most frequently among children and young adults, the cost-per-life lost has been estimated at between $1.2 million and $4.8 million. The cost-per-case of meningitis associated with long-term consequences and treatment has been estimated at $1,298 to $14,600. While the occurrence of bacterial meningitis is relatively low (68 cases per year, on average, in Michigan), the ability to prevent even one case has enormous human and economic implications.

“When it comes to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, knowledge truly is power,” said Altarum CEO Ken Baker. “Day in and day out, this system is giving Michigan’s public health leaders the upper hand in understanding both the health risks we face and the best ways to keep our citizens healthy. Altarum is proud to play a part in this important effort.”

For more information on the Altarum Institute, please visit The MDSS can also be accessed by visiting