Stories about: strep throat

Think you have strep? Answer two questions and check the big data

shutterstock_141722230Do you have a fever?

Do you have a cough?

If you’re sitting at home with a sore throat, your answers to those two questions could be enough to tell whether you should see a doctor for a strep test, thanks to a new risk measure created by Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, and Andrew Fine, MD, MPH, at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Called a “home score,” the measure combines the two questions above, your age, and data on the level of strep activity in your geographic area. The basic idea is that your symptoms, plus the big picture of what’s happening in your neighborhood, is a strong enough predictor to for you to go to the doctor for a throat swab.

Thought it’s just a research tool for now, if it were it were packaged into an app and fed the right data (localized strep test results from a health center or medical testing company, for example), the home score could allow someone with a sore throat to make an informed decision about whether they should consider going to the doctor.

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What’s going around: Can biosurveillance data improve patient care in real-time?

A broad view of what's going on locally may help doctors make better clinical decisions when patients come to them for things like strep throat. (zigazou76/Flickr)

Anyone’s risk of catching an infectious disease is closely linked to what epidemiologists call the disease’s incidence: the number of people in a given area infected with that disease in a given time period. We often have a kind of water-cooler-level awareness about incidence, saying things like, “I hear there’s something going around,” or “Half of my son’s class was out with something last week,” while talking to co-workers or friends about our sniffle or our child’s stomach bug.

Kenneth Mandl and Andrew Fine, in the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, want to take this awareness a step further by collecting real-time population-level biosurveillance information and packaging it for doctors, like your primary care doctor or your child’s pediatrician. Right now, doctors rarely have access to this kind of data, and even if they do, they have few recognized methods at their disposal for formally making use of the data in their clinical decision making processes.

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