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!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.