US bots flagged Ebola before outbreak announced (Update)

by Rodrique Ngowi

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians' social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

"It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what's happening that's useful to these public health agencies," HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein said

HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children's Hospital.

The tool was introduced in 2006 with a core audience of public health specialists, but that changed as the system evolved and the public became increasingly hungry for information during the swine flu pandemic.

HealthMap generates information that includes locations of specific outbreaks and tracks new cases and deaths. The system is also capable of logging public sentiment.

The Ebola outbreak, the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease, has so far killed more than 950 people. It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

More information: HealthMap Interactive Ebola Tool: healthmap.org/ebola/

Related Stories

WHO holds emergency Ebola meeting

date Aug 06, 2014

The World Health Organization on Wednesday began a two-day emergency meeting on west Africa's Ebola epidemic, with the UN agency deciding whether to declare it an international crisis.

Sierra Leone declares Ebola emergency in district

date Jun 12, 2014

The Sierra Leone government announced a state of emergency in the Kailahun district from the outbreak of the Ebola virus which has claimed 17 lives in this West African nation, banning public gatherings and closing schools.

Recommended for you

New clues to treat juvenile diabetes

date 2 hours ago

UC Davis Assistant Professor Mark Huising is a recipient of The Hartwell Foundation 2014 Individual Biomedical Research Award to support his early-stage research toward a cure for juvenile diabetes. Diabetes ...

User 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.