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Physicians Urged to Use 'See Something, Say Something’ Approach to Disease Surveillance

10/02/2012 -Last week, Virginia Department of Health (VDH) commissioner Karen Remley sent a letter to the state’s clinicians urging them to adopt a public health version of the Department of Homeland Security’s“If You See Something, Say Something,”campaign.

The See Something, Say Something campaign, asks the public to report activities that could be indicators of terrorism orterrorism-related crimes to authorities. Similarly, Remley has asked physicians to report unusual symptoms to local public health officials.

“If you suspect an unusual communicable disease or environmental exposure diagnosis, call your local health department,” she says in a letter dated September 28. “An astute clinician who diagnoses a reportable illness and alerts the local health department may be detecting a bioterrorism attack or adisease outbreakand putting in motion actions that will save his or her patient and many others."

If a clinician suspects an outbreak or sees unusual symptoms, they shouldn’t wait for laboratory confirmation before alerting the health department, who will then open an investigation, Remley said.

A runny nose, headache, and cough are symptoms of both the common cold andinhalation anthrax, for example -- but officials are confident doctors can recognize a pattern of unusual symptoms.

“We’re asking them to use their clinical and diagnostic skills to sift through those things” and recognize occurrences that may be out of the ordinary, Dr. David Trump, VDH State Epidemiologist by phone Tuesday.

One of the main problems when it comes to reporting disease outbreaks isn’t clinicians providing bad tips; Its clinicians not reporting them at all. 

Remley’s letter also emphasized building relationships with local health officials early on to increase communication andresilience.

“As they go about their normal activities, which most of the time is going to involve normal activity, if something doesn’t seem right or they suspect something unusual we want them to share that information,” Trump said.

photo from DHS “If You See Something, Say Something" Campaign