Using the net to fight disease

mosquito by tanakawho
Crawling the Internet to track infectious disease outbreaks:
[Via EurekAlert! – Infectious and Emerging Diseases]

(Public Library of Science) Could Internet discussion forums, listservs and online news outlets be an informative source of information on disease outbreaks? A team of researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School thinks so, and it has launched a real-time, automated data-gathering system called HealthMap to gather, organize and disseminate this online intelligence. They describe their project in this week’s PLoS Medicine.

The site itself is an interesting mashup of online news sites with Google Maps. It does demonstrate how a clever mind kind use the internet to gain useful information. While there may be some bias in the types of diseases being reported, this sort of bottoms-up approach could have some real uses. It Will Make You More Paranoid Than the Weather Channel [Mike the Mad Biologist]:
[Via ScienceBlogs : Combined Feed]

One of the things I find fascinating about the Weather Channel is that after watching it for a while, you actually start to worry about that cold front moving through some other part of the country. You become quite paranoid about things that won’t affect you. Well, I’ve got an even better way to drive yourself nuts about scary things that won’t affect you:

This is done by monitoring published reports from around the world so it is not really a substitute for hard epidemiology (which can take some time) but it is a nice adjunct. Following the Salmonella outbreak, for instance, really permits the rapid gathering of a lot of information.
New tool anyone can use to track disease outbreaks:
[Via Effect Measure]

While CDC and FDA struggle to figure out where the Salmonella saintpaul in a large multistate outbreak is coming from they are not being forthcoming about where it has gone. We know the case total but not much about who is getting sick, where and when. There is no good scientific or privacy reason not to release more information. It’s just the usual tendency to keep control. But some of the information is “out there” anyway, in news reports and other sources of information. People interested in disease outbreaks discovered years ago that this information could be harvested and disseminated to the public health community and in 2003 this informal system provided the first evidence of the SARS outbreak in Guangdong, China, weeks before there was any official confirmation. Many of us subscribe and use the no-cost ProMed Mail service, a pioneering effort by volunteer experts to collect information on disease outbreaks in people and animals worldwide, using official and unofficial sources. The ProMed concept has now been taken several steps further by a team of disease of surveillance experts at Boston’s Childrens Hospital. They use automated internet data-mining with some additional curating by human experts to provide a web-based breaking-news disease reporting system organized by disease agent, time and geographic location, all displayed on a map of the world. The system is free and without registration or subscription barriers. It started in prototype in 2006 and now gets about 20,000 unique visits a month, mainly from the public health community (for comparison, this blog gets 30,000 to 40,000 visits a month). The system, called HealthMap, is pretty impressive. It was just highlighted on the Wired Blog so its traffic is going to increase.

It will be interesting to see how organizations such as the CDC or FDA respond to this sort of analysis. As a news aggregator, though, this is pretty useful.
Infectious disease surveillance 2.0: Crawling the Net to detect outbreaks:
[Via LISNews – Librarian And Information Science News]

“July 8, 2008 (Computerworld) While recent outbreaks of salmonella in the U.S. have made headlines, an automated real-time system that scours the Web for information about disease outbreaks spied early reports in New Mexico about suspicious gastrointestinal illnesses days before the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an official report on the problem.
The system, called HealthMap, is a free data-mining tool that extracts, categorizes, filters and links 20,000 Web-based data sources such as news sites, blogs, e-mail lists and chat rooms to monitor emerging public health issues. HealthMap, which is profiled in the July issue of the journal Public Library of Science Medicine and is open to anyone, was developed in late 2006 by John Brownstein and Clark Freifeld. Both men work in the informatics program at Children’s Hospital Boston.”
Read the full article in Computerworld at:
Infectious disease surveillance 2.0: Crawling the Net to detect outbreaks

It is kind of fun to check out what is happening around the world. There are nice pop-ups that can provide further information. I will have to play with this some more.

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