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Utility of Infectious Disease Coding Sheets for Surveillance in a State Medical Examiner’s Office

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Medical examiners are often first to recognize unusual occurrences of fatal infectious diseases. Recognition of these deaths allows public health officials to institute appropriate public health measures. Therefore, we developed a simple method of identifying and tracking infectious disease deaths in a statewide medical examiner’s office. One-page infectious disease forms were completed for 1566/1949 autopsies (80%) performed at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator in 2004. In 241 cases one infectious disease was identified at autopsy and 58 cases had two infectious diseases. Fourteen of the infectious-diseases caused deaths involved diseases that are notifiable conditions in New Mexico. Pneumonia was the most commonly reported infectious process (47 deaths) followed by sepsis (25 deaths). Tracking infectious disease deaths highlighted the importance of recognizing these deaths, although hand-written entries were unstandardized. Preferably, a tracking system would be built into electronic databases at medical examiner and coroner’s offices, expediting the identification of these diseases and contact of public health agencies.
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Keywords: autopsy; forensic pathology; forensic science; infectious diseases; public health; surveillance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Office of the Medical Investigator, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001.

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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