Changes in the mobility patterns of mobile device users can be used to identify disease outbreaks.

An MIT team is researching the feasibility of using cell phones as a unique tool to identify any emerging disease outbreaks. The team, led by Anmol Madan, said that a disease changes the mobility pattern of a cell phone user and by developing a software that tracked movements, phone calls and text messages of 70 students who were also daily surveyed for their health, the software was able to identify those suffering from an ailment.

New Scientist explains the results of the study:

A characteristic signature of illness emerged from the data, which was gathered over a 10-week period in early 2009. Students who came down with a fever or full-blown flu tended to move around less and make fewer calls late at night and early in the morning. When Madan trained software to hunt for this signature in the cellphone data, a daily check correctly identified flu victims 90 per cent of the time.

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