NZ software helps fight foot and mouth

A team from Massey University is developing software that could alleviate the UK's foot and mouth disease outbreak. The software, EpiMAN, is a decision support system that helps authorities plan the containment of such an outbreak.

A team from Massey University is developing software that could alleviate the UK’s foot and mouth disease outbreak. The software, EpiMAN, is a decision support system that helps authorities plan the containment of such an outbreak.

“Two of our guys have gone over with two [Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] vets to help out,” says Brian O’Leary, a software developer working with Massey University’s EpiCentre, a veterinary epidemiology training and research centre. The team has taken with it a copy of EpiMAN (FMD), the version that specialises in foot and mouth disease control. Each version of the system is made up of a variety of modules that manage the different aspects of such a containment.

“One of the modules is called Tracing, which is a kind of detective program — where did the milk tanker go, who drove it, that sort of thing. Then you can make an intelligent query of the tanker firm to track the movements and break the chain.”

The package also allows the user to recreate the spread of the disease after the outbreak has been contained — it can backtrack to the initial incident and help authorities work out where the problem started.

The system requires a staggering amount of data from truck movements to weather patterns to properly assess potential problems but while it would ideally be run on a server it can be scaled down to fit on a laptop.

EpiMAN was developed by the EpiCentre team using “a variety of languages including Access, Visual Basic, C++ and Fortran”, and has been sold to a number of countries including the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. New Zealand’s own MAF also uses the package but has never had to deploy it in the field.

The EpiCentre team is practically the only software developer working in the field of epidemic outbreak control — helped by having a world-renowned epidemiologist as the unit’s director: Professor Roger Morris.

EpiMAN is not the EpiCentre’s only product — it has a variety of different models for EpiMAN that analyse different diseases, Swine Fever and TB, and the team is working on producing a meta version of EpiMAN that will work with a number of air-borne diseases. The Centre produces a number of other applications as well, including herd management software that has an add-on package for Palm users called CowPAD.

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