A new iPhone application created by a Harvard University professor and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student is designed to gather information from its users about infectious-disease outbreaks.
The tool was developed as part of the Health Map.org project, which collects and displays information about infectious diseases on an interactive map on its home page. Information on the map is automatically drawn from online sources of infectious-disease data, and is updated each hour.
The new application, called Outbreaks Near Me, flips that process around: Users are asked to submit information about infections themselves. Though currently only available to iPhone users, similar applications for other smart phones are in the works, said Craig Freifeld, the MIT graduate student working on the project. Over the weekend, about 600 reports were submitted, and the project’s staff members are now deciding how to vet and post the information, said John Brownstein, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard.
Public officials around the world are asking people to submit information in an attempt to better monitor infectious diseases, The Washington Post reported last week. A version of Google’s Flu Trends, which monitors what people are searching for online, was able to predict flu rates a week beforehand during the 2007-08 season, The Post reported.
Healthmap.org is based at the Children’s Hospital in Boston and largely paid for by grants from Google.org, the technology company’s philanthropic arm.