Tools to track public health online

measlesmap.jpg

One of the cool things I learned about during the Conference on World Affairs panel on "Superbugs and Pandemics" was the existence of Healthmap, a site that aggregates freely available information and turns it into maps showing what is happening in human and animal public health, and where it's happening. The info comes from sources ranging from Google News, to the World Health Organization, to ProMED Mail—a site that reviews and curates reports of disease outbreaks.

For instance, the map above shows the location of reported measles outbreaks in the United States during the past month.

The system isn't foolproof, but as a generalized information source, I can see it being very handy. If you were about to travel, you could see whether the place you were going had any current health risks you ought to know about. If you're wondering whether local news is blowing the risk of flu out of proportion, you could check and see how the number of reported cases in your state or country compares to others—and to last month. You can search by disease, or location.

Many thanks to David Rosenman, my fellow panelist and an internal medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic, for suggesting this site!

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  1. HealthMap is probably the most professional (and IT-shiny) of the crowdsourced disease-reporting sites, but it’s not the only one. There are several maintained by the flu-blog community, most of them stemming from when H5N1 was a big worry. My own fave — because it’s such a good demonstration of people’s interest in knowing where disease is occurring, even though it necessarily collects only anecdotes not good epi data — is whoissick.org.

  2. Gosh I thought everyone knew about the HealthMap site since the pigs stared flying some time ago: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8083179.stm

    There are as mentioned, other sites to check out too. It might be best to produce a working summary of those, but I tend to think informative, current sites will arise on a epidemic by epidemic basis going forward.

  3. There are as mentioned, other sites to check out too. It might be best to produce a working summary of those, but I tend to think informative, current sites will arise on a epidemic by epidemic basis going forward.

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