Mapping the World’s Epidemics Like Zika
The next step in public health will come down to people's use of an open messaging platform
Zika concerns are plaguing the citizens of countries worldwide. Sickweather is a Baltimore-based company that provides real-time disease surveillance and forecasts for more than 23 different symptoms and illnesses. The developer of the real-time map of illness has now launched Sickweather Groups, an open messaging platform for anonymously reporting symptoms to locations fed by Foursquare—including schools, workplaces, restaurants, hospitals, theme parks and more.
As a response to myriad requests for the company to track illnesses like Zika and Ebola, the company created Sickweather Groups. This is a much-needed open public health messaging tool that can be used for reporting everything from allergies to Zika.
Using the service, the public can anonymously and easily report symptoms directly to a group location, while also inviting verified users, such as nurses, clinicians and volunteers to claim and manage these groups. Just as Doppler radar scans the skies for indicators of bad weather, the company’s algorithm scans social networks for indicators of illness, allowing you to check for the chance of sickness as easily as you can check for the chance of rain.
The resource allows its members to report directly to the map and forecast anonymously via the mobile app. One selects from a menu of illnesses that are on the watch list or posts a message to any location he or she follows in the Sickweather Groups ecosystem. If a user reports symptoms or illnesses that aren’t being tracked, that information will be processed by the algorithm to automatically make suggestions for expanding on-going tracking capabilities. Additionally, Sickweather sources data from social media as thousands of people around the globe update sites like Facebook and Twitter when they (or someone close to them) gets sick, publishing posts like “I’m sick,” “The doc says I have bronchitis” and “My son has chickenpox.” When this information is made publicly available by the user, the company says it’s able to track and map this data using its algorithm given that the shares contain location information.
When several reports appear nearby each other at approximately the same time they are grouped as potential storm activity represented by the heat mapping. A user can zoom in and see the individual reports down to the street level.
It also allows administrators and clinicians who represent a location to claim that group and use the open messaging platform to respond to reports or alert their followers of health issues associated with their locations. Other examples include parents following their childrens’ school on the messaging platform and the school nurse using it to alert the parents when there is an outbreak—likewise the parents can anonymously compare symptoms together for quicker resolution before the illness evolves into an outbreak.
It is so effective in fact, that in 2012, the company was recognized among “100 Brilliant Companies” by Entrepreneur Magazine and featured on the TODAY Show for successfully identifying the early start of the 2012 flu season six weeks before the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Most recently in the United States, in light of the recent Chipotle E.Coli outbreak, users could report symptoms directly to their favorite Chipotle restaurant for managers and patrons to be immediately alerted to a problem. Similar examples can be cited for Disneyland’s measles outbreak last year, or the upcoming Olympics in Rio amid Zika concerns.
Rafaelgilo | Public Domain