10.24.14

Using Maps to Track and Control Infectious Disease: Five Online Resources

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The recent Ebola outbreak has brought the the tracking and containment of infectious disease to the forefront of global consciousness. Indeed, tracking and monitoring the spread of disease is one of public health’s most important (and oldest) tasks. Ever since John Snow removed the handle from the Broad Street pump his hand-drawn maps indicated were at the center of a Cholera outbreak, epidemiologists have appreciated the importance of effective mapping tools. Modern online resources build upon this tradition. This post illustrates some of the best cutting-edge, publicly available mapping tools being used to track infectious diseases.
 
Healthmap.org
http://healthmap.org/
The best of the comprehensive trackers, Healthmap.org, is a project of Boston Children’s hospital. The site automatically compiles data from a broad range of sources (e.g. WHO, Google News, and PROMed Mail), displaying reports of disease on a map of the world. It also features a fascinating Ebola timeline, showing the progression of the epidemic (including a map overlay showing Ebola’s zoonotic niche).
Healthmap

OpenStreetMap
http://tasks.hotosm.org/
Unlike most sites on this list, OpenStreetMap is not merely conveying information to users. Rather it is a forum encouraging visitors to assist in mapping areas in Ebola-affected areas in order to increase service delivery. Users input details of roads, landmarks, etc. surrounding Ebola clinics, Ebola-affected areas, etc. which are then used to help those on the ground to better respond to the disease.
Open Street Map 
Emergency and Disaster Information Service 
http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/index2.php
Operated by the Hungarian National Association of Radio Distress-Signalling and Infocommunications, the Emergency and Disaster Information Service (EDIS) shows a map of the world identifying a wide variety of threats to human health and safety. A related site, http://outbreaks.globalincidentmap.com/home.php illustrates new incidence of infectious disease, although the latter is focused more on possible terrorism (including bioterrorism).
RSOE EDIS
 
CDC FluView
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluviewinteractive.htm
With influenza season soon to begin, CDC’s FluView dashboard is one of the best resources for tracking the disease’s spread in the United States. The tracker allows viewers to examine the spread of each influenza strain, state-by-state spread, the overall number of hospitalizations for influenza-like illness (ILI), and much more.
CDC Flu View
 
Google Flu Trends
http://www.google.org/flutrends/
Also influenza specific, Google has developed a website to track the frequency of certain search terms, using this to approximate the level of influenza in a population. Unlike CDC’s data, it is available for countries beyond the United States. The methodology behind Google’s approach is available here. While its data have been criticized for frequently overestimating the level of influenza in a population, they can suggest trend lines, and may be particularly useful when combined with other sources of data (such as that from CDC).
Another website, Flu Near You, uses information provided weekly by registered users to gauge the spread of influenza in a population and provides a map of places in which symptoms have been reported.
Google Flu Trends
 

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