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Hospital's monitoring system a game-changer in fight against the flu

Biosurveillance tracking flu outbreak
Biosurveillance tracking flu outbreak 02:23

A 4-year-old girl from central New Jersey is the latest child confirmed to have died from the flu virus. Health officials say she died in December and did not get the flu shot.

Northwell Health, one of the largest health systems in the country, is implementing a one-of-a-kind biosurveillance system to proactively combat this historic, deadly influenza outbreak, reports CBS News contributor Dr. Tara Narula.

It's all hands on deck at the emergency operations unit at Northwell Health on New York's Long Island. With its cutting-edge flu surveillance system, they can take in information from all their hospitals in almost real time, bypassing the typical one-to two-week time lag on information from state and federal health officials.

"You'll see this is up to yesterday. So you're within 24 hours," said Mary Mahoney, the vice president of emergency management.

Why this year's flu virus is so deadly 04:10

She says the system is a game changer. It allows them to send the appropriate resources to areas where they see a spike in cases.

"Things like do we have enough masks to protect our patients and our families and our staff," Mahoney said. "If a large number of this population is pediatric population….Do we have the appropriate doses of Tamiflu for them if we're going to be treating them with Tamiflu."

This season, at least 39 children have died from flu-related complications in at least 25 states and that number is expected to rise.

"Kids are vulnerable because of their immune system," Dr. Eric Gottesman said. "They're young, they haven't been exposed to this before, so their body attacks them full on."

Gottesman is director of the intensive care unit at North Shore University Hospital.

"You're having problems breathing, becoming lethargic, and coughing up yellow, green....Then it's time to get to the emergency room,"  Gottesman said.

Northwell's biosurveillance unit could become a model for other hospital systems. They say their information could help public health officials hone in on zip codes and more specific locations for targeted outreach. It could also be used to track and respond to other infectious disease outbreaks in the future. In full disclosure, Dr. Narula is employed by Northwell.   

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