A new iPhone application enables users to track and report outbreaks of infectious diseases like H1N1 or swine flu in real time.
The application, "Outbreaks Near Me", builds upon the mission and proven capability of HealthMap, an online resource that collects, filters, maps and disseminates information about emerging infectious diseases.
It provides a new, contextualised view of a user's specific location - pinpointing outbreaks that have been reported near the user and offering the opportunity to search for additional outbreak information by location or disease.
Besides 'Outbreaks Near Me' set alerts that will notify a user on their device or by e-mail when new outbreaks are nearby, or if a user enters a new area of activity.
"We hope individuals will find the new application to be a useful source of outbreak information - locally, nationally, and globally," says HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein, assistant professor in the Children's Hospital (Boston) Informatics Program (CHIP).
"As people are equipped with more knowledge and awareness of infectious disease, the hope is that they will become more involved and proactive about public health."
Users can also submit an outbreak report. This will enable individuals in cities and countries worldwide to interact with the HealthMap team and participate in the public health surveillance process.
Users may take photos - of situations and scenarios of, and/or leading to, disease - with their iPhone and submit them to the HealthMap system for review and eventual posting as an alert on the worldwide map.
"This is grassroots, participatory epidemiology," says HealthMap co-founder Clark Freifeld, a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab and research software developer at CHIP," according to a Children's Hospital release.
HealthMap was founded in 2006 and mines the Internet - searching disparate data sources such as news reports, curated personal accounts, official alerts, blogs and chat rooms - to track and map infectious disease outbreaks.