Argus: A Global Detection and Tracking System for Biological Events
James M. Wilson V, MD
Argus Research Operations Center, ISIS Center, Georgetown University Medical Center
Objective. This paper describes Project Advisory. The framework for alerting was
Argus, a novel foreign biological event derived heavily from the natural disaster and
detection and tracking system. meteorological communities. Reporting
Background. Currently, official notification requirements for both event detection and
of international health threats is provided by alerting were developed by Argus and then
the World Health Organization (WHO), in reevaluated on a quarterly basis by the US
partnership with the Global Outbreak Alert government for constant operational
and Response Network (GOARN), and refinement.
supported legally through WHO’s promotion Results. Argus currently manages between
of the International Health Regulations. 2,200 to 3,300 active, socially disruptive
WHO and GOARN utilize a service called biological event case files with update report
the Global Public Health Intelligence threading for approximately 175 countries
Network (GPHIN) to scan media articles and over 130 disease entities. This past
globally for references to disease outbreaks influenza season, the Argus team issued
and epidemics. GPHIN is limited, however, nearly 3,000 event reports across 128
by the volume of media material that can be countries and 27 languages, which included
processed in multiple languages. Additional 181 Advisories, 58 Watches, and 38
limitations may prevent WHO from detecting Warnings. We identified hundreds of reports
and assessing a rapidly spreading epidemic, of a possible H3N2 drifted virus escaping
including the lack of a proper public health the current vaccine compilation beginning
infrastructure in the country experiencing an eight months ago in a multitude of countries
outbreak, the involvement of a previously and collaboratively worked with CDC to
uncharacterized pathogen, or the WHO track this important finding. This information
Member State’s unwillingness to report the ultimately contributed to the decision
event. [1, 2] Unofficial mechanisms also process by the World Health Organization
exist for reporting international heath and its partners to change the southern
threats, such as ProMED, a not-for-profit hemisphere influenza vaccine to include an
organization that relies on volunteers updated H3N2 strain.
throughout the world who submit information Conclusions. In summary, Project Argus
about infectious diseases and surrounding has changed the expectations for biological
issues. Most of these reports are media event detection. The Argus methodology
articles. In an attempt to display only the has been reduced to practice on a global
most relevant information, all submissions scale and is now recognized as a novel
are processed by a group of volunteer professional analytic discipline by the US
moderators with substantial field expertise. government.
This approach is limited by the number of References.
staff available to process the volume of 1. Heyman DL, Rodier G. Global
reports submitted throughout the world in surveillance, national surveillance, and
multiple languages. [3, 4] SARS. Emerg Infect Dis. Available from:
Methods. The purpose of Project Argus URL:
was to create and implement a global http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no2/03-
biological event detection and tracking 1038.htm [accessed 2003 Feb].
capability that provides early warning alerts. 2. World Health Organization. Global
The Argus analytic team consists of multi- outbreak alert and response network
lingual analysts that utilize proprietary state [online]. Available from:
of the art online media processing software http://www.who.int/csr/outbreaknetwork/en/
designed in collaboration with the MITRE [accessed 2005 May 23].
Corporation combined with innovative open 3. Woodall J, Calisher CH. ProMED-mail:
source analysis. We cover 34 languages background and purpose. Emerg Infect Dis.
with global sourcing. Identification of 2001;7(3 Suppl):563.
biological events is performed using a 4. Madoff LC, Woodall JP. The internet and
taxonomy of nearly 200 indicators coupled the global monitoring of emerging diseases:
to a heuristic staging model called the lessons from the first 10 years of ProMED-
Wilson—Collmann Scale. Once an event is mail. Arch Med Res. 2005 Nov-
identified, analysts then evaluate the report Dec;36(6):724-30.
for possible posting as a Warning, Watch, or