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USF researchers looking to identify COVID-19 hotspots in Tampa Bay

Researchers are adapting a symptom-based surveillance program to identify where coronavirus is most prevalent in the Tampa Bay area.

TAMPA, Fla. — Researchers with the University of South Florida are trying to find COVID-19 hotspots in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and they've launched a survey that you can take to help them. 

But, it's not just any survey; they're adapting a symptom-based surveillance program that was developed and used by scientists in Puerto Rico. Called a syndromic surveillance platform, the technology was developed by the Puerto Rico Science Trust and was recently launched in the Boston area through Harvard University.

Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a professor at the USF College of Public Health, said the surveillance platform has been adapted for the Tampa Bay region and was launched on April 15. Unnasch is also the director of the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research.

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“Currently, testing for COVID-19 infection is limited to those most likely to be infected,” Unnasch said. “This system is missing about 90 percent of infections exhibiting mild or no symptoms.”

The university created the Tampa Bay symptom surveillance survey in order to get a better idea of how many cases there actually are in the area and to get a better idea of where exactly they happen. The USF College of Public Health worked in collaboration with Hillsborough and Pinellas County Departments of Health, Public Health Program of Ponce Health Sciences University and the Puerto Rico Health Trust.

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If you think you may have COVID-19, you can take part in the survey here. It will ask you questions about exposure and symptoms.

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According to the CDC, a syndromic surveillance platform "provides public health officials with a timely system for detecting, understanding, and monitoring health events." By tracking symptoms of patients in emergency departments—before a diagnosis is confirmed—public health can detect unusual levels of illness to determine whether a response is warranted.

"Syndromic data can serve as an early warning system for public health concerns such as flu outbreaks and have been used in responses for opioid overdoses, vaping-associated lung disease, Zika virus infection, and natural disasters," the CDC said.

The CDC's National Syndrom Surveillance Platform is currently only available in a few states in the US. 

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