2007-03-22 / Front Page

County, university team up on research

A research team from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, including an epidemiologist from the Monmouth County Health Department, recently presented a new and innovative system of detecting and tracking outbreaks of disease to a United Nations panel.

William Tepfenhart, an associate professor and software engineer and lead researcher for the university's Center for Rapid Response Database Systems, and Karen DeMarco, epidemiologist from the Monmouth County Health Department, spent several hours presenting data and answering questions posed by members of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, according to information provided by the county.

"For many years, the county health department and Monmouth University have been working very closely to develop computer technology and database systems that would greatly enhance communications and intelligence gathering to detect, respond and recover from events ranging from an outbreak of illness to a major chemical or biological incident," said Lester Jargowsky, Monmouth County's public health coordinator. "Furthermore, this system can be used to respond to a small scale or a very large regional event and aid decision-makers to protect the public health and welfare."

The researchers presented their new epidemiological modeling system, called the Markov Chain Model for Epidemics, to detect and track outbreaks of disease.

"The United Nations committee spent several hours in a formal presentation and discussed practical epidemiologic uses for the new computer modeling program," DeMarco said.

This research and computer modeling was indirectly linked to the Monmouth County Health Department's bio-terrorism grant from the state Department of Health and Senior Services and directly linked to Monmouth University's Center for Rapid Response Database Systems and the Center of Excellence, which are contracted by the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, according to the information provided by the county.

"Research continues to help us understand and evaluate other potential tools to make our men and women in the military, as well as our civilian first responders, more informed in a more timely manner, so that key decisions to protect the public health and welfare can be made," Jargowsky said.

This partnership between county government, the university and the U.S. Army has brought diverse talent together to develop systems that protect the public's health and welfare in the United States and abroad, Jargowsky said.

"It's not often that a small, but highly talented partnership develops an emergency management tool of this nature that truly has worldwide interest and impact," Jargowsky said. "Dr. Tepfenhart and Karen DeMarco, with the assistance of graduate students from Monmouth University's Department of Software Engineering, have developed this unique Markov Chain Modeling tool that can predict and/or detect the spread of diseases occurring naturally or intentionally."

"Monmouth University is pleased to be working with the Monmouth County Health Department and to be able to make contributions that can provide a globally adaptable model that can defend a population against bio-terror agents and communicable diseases," said Barbara T. Reagor, director of the university's Center for Rapid Response Database Systems.

"We are proud of our contribution to the worldwide control of outbreaks of disease," Monmouth County Freeholder Robert D. Clifton said.

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