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article imageUsing social media to track diseases like Ebola

By Tim Sandle     Aug 30, 2014 in Internet
A new report argues that algorithms that map social media posts and mobile phone data can help researchers track epidemics.
Harnessing social media, local news, and mobile phone data can help researchers develop tools to track and predict the path of epidemics like the ongoing Ebola outbreak, according to The Lancet. Here, Kathryn Jacobsen of George Mason University in Virginia have proposed implementing emerging technologies to manage responses to outbreaks like the ongoing Ebola epidemic.
Here Jacobsen observes: "Infectious disease surveillance systems should be strengthened by adopting new data-sharing technologies. Emerging technologies can help early warning systems, outbreak response, and communication between health-care providers, wildlife and veterinary professionals, local and national health authorities, and international health agencies."
To take a recent example, nine days before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola epidemic, a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” was spotted by HealthMap, software that mines government websites, social networks, and local news reports, among other sources, to map potential disease outbreaks. HealthMap is run by researchers based at Boston Children’s Hospital.
HealthMap cofounder John Brownstein, a computational epidemiologist is quoted as saying "these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies."
In a second example, anonymized data from mobile phone users is being used by Swedish non-profit Flowminder to help predict how travel might shape the spread of Ebola.
More about Social media, Twitter, Ebola, Disease, Epidemiology
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