by Meg Mitchell Moore

ProMED-Mail Aims to Thwart Infectious Diseases

Jun 01, 2001 2 mins
Enterprise Applications

You don’t need a medical degree to know that infectious diseases often spread faster than the warnings that should precede them. But ProMED-mail may change that.

Run by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit based in Boston, ProMED-mail is an electronic mailing list that alerts subscribers to the spread of infectious diseases and toxins. “If a disease can be identified early, maybe it can be contained,” says Dr. Daniel Shapiro, managing editor of ProMED-mail. Recent postings have reported instances of bubonic plague in Zambia and anthrax in Kenyan livestock.

Shapiro, a physician whose salary support is half for ProMED-mail and half for his work at Boston Medical Center, works with three associate editors: one physician in England, one PhD from the National Institutes of Health and one PhD at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They sift through reports from all sorts of sources, including news organizations, health officials and ministries of agriculture worldwide. They send them to experts in the fields of human, plant and animal diseases who determine the reports’ accuracy, provide relevant commentary and return them for posting. ProMED-mail sends out about six or seven e-mails a day to 23,000 subscribers in more than 160 countries.

The service is free to anyone. In the nearly seven years of its existence, it’s inspired enthusiasm that’s…infectious. It has received grants from the Rockefeller and Gates foundations, Oracle has donated website hosting, and Harvard School of Public Health runs the e-mail server. News of the site spreads mostly by word of mouth. Not to be confused with foot-and-mouth. Which makes you wonder: Would things be different in England if cows and sheep had e-mail?