Thermal Screening for Rapid Flu Detection

by Manvir Clair

The year 1918 saw an unprecedented medical phenomena, which although, was known to be a medical possibility was never taken seriously until it reached catastrophic proportions. The world was still recovering from the massive toll of the Great war when the influenza virus struck. It did not take much time for the pandemic to spread to virtually every corner of the world as a result of the lack of urgency that the outbreak deserved. Almost 50 million people lost their lives to the devastating disease. Thus now, when the world has become an even smaller place with millions of people traveling locally as well as globally, no scale of measurements can be thought of as an exaggerated reaction to this deadly strain of virus.

 Since the infection originates in a rather localized manner, the source of the outbreak can be accurately pinpointed. In the swine flu outbreak, the origin seems to be in Mexico. It has however spread to at least 8 countries at the time this article was written. It therefore becomes necessary for the major airports to install specialized screening mechanisms to insure that no undiagnosed case of swine flu manages to slip in (inadvertently, of course) or escape out of the premises and if a suspected case is detected, then is reported to the medical authorities and quarantined immediately.

Several such mechanisms are being utilized including many systems which were already in place. A major problem with the existing methods is the time it takes for a full test for swine flu to be conducted. This not only creates inconvenience to the customers, but also poses a risk of spreading the infection. Thus, a fast and effective mechanism is required at this time, when each new infection can cascade into an uncontrollable situation.

Many airports have since adopted a novel way of screening the passengers, by using thermal cameras already installed at the airports for security checks. Thermal imaging is proving to be an effective test since even at early stages of swine flu, the infected person radiates heat signatures, that can be identified by person or through minor hacks in the pattern recognition software already functioning on the terminals. These thermal signatures are characteristic of a set of viral infections closely related to the swine flu. Thus further tests after isolation of the person can confirm or negate the premise.

Several factors make this approach a sensible one. Firstly no contact whatsoever with the subject is required for accurate readings. The remote nature of this test makes it perfectly suitable for such a use. An algorithmic tool can be utilized for an initial screening. This allows a wider sample space with several subjects being scanned at the same time. More than one such thermal cameras maybe installed to compensate the error probability inherent with such pattern recognition software. After an initial filtering, manual scans may be conducted through thermal cameras, on a one by one basis. Thus a multilevel, yet a parallel approach is made possible by such a thermal analysis.And lastly, depending on the intensity of the signature, the stage of the flu can also be made out with reasonable precision. This will let the supervisor choose the necessary action to be taken in case of a positive.

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