Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Trending Now: Using Social Media to Predict and Track Disease Outbreaks (with links to related Websites & apps)

Engelbart Prize: HealthMap

Image by rosefirerising via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/69145729@N00/4438384922

[Abstract from Full Text Reports]

Source:  Environmental Health Perspectives

It’s winter, flu season, and you’re at your computer feeling a bit woozy, with an unwanted swelling in the back of your throat and a headache coming on. If you’re like millions of other people, you might engage in a moment of Internet-enabled self-diagnosis. You pop your symptoms into a search engine, and in the blink of an eye dozens of health-related websites appear on your screen. That search supplied you with information—some useful and some not—but in today’s hyper-connected world, it also supplied a data point for those who survey disease outbreaks by monitoring how people report symptoms via social media. In fact, social media, cell phones, and other communication modes have opened up a two-way street in health research, supplying not just a portal for delivering information to the public but also a channel by which people reveal their concerns, locations, and physical movements from one place to another.

That two-way street is transforming disease surveillance and the way that health officials respond to disasters and pandemics. It’s also raising hard questions about privacy and about how data streams generated by cell-phone and social-media use might be made available for health research. “There’s a challenge here in that some of these [data] systems are tightening in terms of access,” says John Brownstein, director of the computational epidemiology group at Children’s Hospital Boston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “But we are seeing a movement towards data philanthropy in that companies are looking for ways to release data for health research without risking privacy. And at the same time, government officials and institutions at all levels see the data’s value and potential. To me, that’s very exciting.”
(Read the entire article for insights in improving surveillance, investigating social networks, and accuracy of social networks)

Excerpts from the ehp article

  • A pioneer in this field, Brownstein worked with collaborators at Children’s Hospital Boston to launch one of the earliest social media tools in infectious disease surveillance, a website called HealthMap (http://healthmap.org/) that mines news websites, government alerts, eyewitness accounts, and other data sources for outbreaks of various illnesses reported around the world. The site aggregates those cases on a global map, with outbreaks displayed in real time. Brownstein’s team recently launched Outbreaks Near Me, an iPhone application that delivers HealthMap directly to cell-phone users.
  • Flu Near You (https://flunearyou.org/), a website created with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund of San Francisco, California, which allows individuals to serve as potential disease sentinels by reporting their health status on a weekly basis.
  • Google launched Google Flu Trends (http://www.google.org/flutrends/), a website that allows people to compare volumes of flu-related search activity against reported incidence rates for the illness displayed graphically on a map.

January 6, 2012 - Posted by | Health Statistics, Public Health | , , , ,

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