Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
6.9 Conclusions
Rapidly identifying an infectious disease outbreak is critical, both for effec-
tive initiation of public health intervention measures and for timely alerting
of government agencies and the general public. The Internet is revolution-
izing how this epidemic intelligence information is gathered. Freely avail-
able Web-based sources of information have allowed for earlier detection of
outbreaks with reduced cost and increased reporting transparency (Wilson
and Brownstein 2009).
While mining the Web is a valuable new approach, these sources cannot
replace the efforts of public health practitioners and clinicians. Information
overload, false reports, lack of specificity of signals, and sensitivity to external
forces such as media interest may limit the realization of their potential for pub-
lic health practice and clinical decision making. Ultimately, the Internet provides
a powerful communications channel, but it is health care professionals, and the
public who can best determine how to use this channel for surveillance, preven-
tion, and control of emerging diseases (Brownstein, Freifeld, and Madoff 2009).
6.10 Future Work
In an effort to improve coverage, HealthMap is exploring the use of other
Internet-based sources, including additional news aggregators—such as
Yahoo! News, Factiva, and LexisNexis—blogs, and veterinary news sources
such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) (Freifeld et al.
2008). Social-networking sites for clinicians, patients, and the general public
also hold potential for harnessing the collective wisdom of the masses for
disease detection. Eventually, mobile phone technology, enabled by global
positioning systems and coupled with short-message service (SMS) messag-
ing and “microblogging,” might also come into play (Brownstein, Freifeld,
and Madoff 2009). This is especially relevant in developing countries where
Internet access is frequently unreliable at best. The use of hand-held devices
and mobile phones that connect to the Internet and have SMS capability can
help fill technology gaps in resource-poor settings (Wilson and Brownstein
2009). Further, user search queries aggregated across Internet users, such
as those used by Google Flu Trends (,
may provide additional important insights into public health trends. It has
recently been shown that search query data can be harnessed as a form of col-
lective intelligence where patterns of population-level searching mirror and
may even predict disease outbreaks (Wilson and Brownstein 2009). The addi-
tion of automated analysis of online video materials and radio broadcasts
will also add to HealthMap's list of sources for early detection (Brownstein,
Freifeld, and Madoff 2009).
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