Firm Warned of Flu Weeks Before WHO Alert

Watchdog discovered threat in daily Web scan; notified CDC
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted May 1, 2009 8:51 AM CDT
Veratect's Marissa Iannarone, left, and Eve Aronson read reports of areas of swine flu hotspots and outbreaks at the company's office in Kirkland, Wash., Monday, April 27, 2009.    (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)
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(Newser) – A company that specializes in biosurveillance issued a warning about swine flu more than two weeks before the World Health Organization announced the possible threat, McClatchy reports. The Washington state firm, Veratect, scans tens of thousands of Web sites every day in search of potential medical concerns. It reported a respiratory disease emerging in Mexico April 6 on its website, then e-mailed CDC workers 10 days later when the outbreak appeared to be spreading.

Finally, on April 20, a Veratect scientist called contacts at the CDC; they had been examining possible US swine flu cases and hadn’t known about the Mexican situation, said Veratect’s CEO. The WHO announced its concern four days later. The CEO—whose aim is to sell his services to such agencies—said he didn’t hold the delay against the CDC. “Hindsight is great and it's hard to say whether (the delay) altered anything.” But an international monitoring system should be implemented, he said.