University of Calgary

Sri Lanka blog

Tracking disease in Sri Lanka

Kate Sawford is tracking new diseases through the jungles of Sri Lanka.
 Kate Sawford is looking at ways to identify new diseases in Sri Lanka.
Kate Sawford, a veterinarian working on her PhD in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will be looking for new ways to identify new diseases in a country with a difficult past.


Sawford will employ a relatively new investigative technique called syndromic surveillance to identify emerging diseases in Sri Lanka.

“You’re looking for unusual events or an unusual increase in the number of cases displaying a particular syndrome that might prompt you to say ‘I wonder if we should look into that farther.  I wonder if that’s something bad.’”  

It is estimated that about 70 percent of emerging diseases are species jumpers, or diseases that spread from animals to humans.  Sawford will work with local veterinarians to create a surveillance system that will quickly identify diseases like Avian Influenza, a serious concern in the nation.

“When you talk about emerging infectious disease and things we’ve never seen before we’re not going to have a lab test to identify that agent necessarily so you have to figure out a new or different way of looking for it and the thought is that syndromic surveillance might be the way to do that,” she says. 

“Quite simply, you are no longer searching for the agent causing the disease, you are looking for something that might be different.”

Sawford’s project is part of a larger initiative of tsunami reconstruction in Sri Lanka—through a  Canadian International Development Agency Teasdale-Corti Team Grant. 

You can track her progress through her blog at: www.ucalgary.ca/blogs/fieldnotes/kate