Crawling the Internet to track infectious disease outbreaks

July 8, 2008

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.

"Web-based electronic information sources," say John Brownstein and colleagues from the HealthMap project, "can play an important role in early event detection and support situational awareness by providing current, highly local information about outbreaks, even from areas relatively invisible to traditional global public health efforts."

However, information overload and difficulties in distinguishing "signal from noise" pose substantial barriers to fully using this information. To overcome these problems, the authors created the freely accessible HealthMap Project (www.healthmap.org), which they describe as a "multistream real-time surveillance platform that continually aggregates reports on new and ongoing infectious disease outbreaks." These reports are organized and disseminated in a variety of ways, including creating disease maps and "situational awareness windows."

Ultimately, say Brownstein and colleagues, the use of news media and other nontraditional sources of surveillance data can "facilitate early outbreak detection, increase public awareness of disease outbreaks prior to their formal recognition, and provide an integrated and contextualized view of global health information."

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Leveraging the Internet's unique data repositories

Related Stories

Leveraging the Internet's unique data repositories

July 10, 2015

Sometimes, data doesn't look like data. But when circumstances conspire and the right researchers come along, interesting facets of human nature reveal themselves. Last.fm and World of Warcraft are two entities made possible ...

Extracting useful scientific information from social media

May 27, 2015

In the second it takes to 'like' this article, 6,000 tweets, 5,000 profile updates, 4,000 photos and 500 blogs will have been posted on multiple social media platforms. As that second extends to a minute, a day and even a ...

Recommended for you

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

April 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Humans don’t always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.