HealthMap is a useful new tool for tracking outbreaks of infectious diseases.
You can find it on the web or even better, as a free iPhone app, so I thought it would a good time for taking it out for a test drive. Downloading was fast and easy, and you're up and running in minutes. What do you get?
First of all, it asks for permission to find your current location and maps known reports or outbreaks near you like this:
The use of red and green pins is a bit of a pain for those of us who are colour blind, if I was in Australia or Africa, I might not know where I am relative to the other pins, but at least in the USA, one has a chance of working out which is the home pin!
Since I know where I live I can immediately see there is activity in Montclair and Toms River. Clicking on the Montclair pin shows more detail:
No surprise to find a suspected swine flu outbreak given the University location there.
Not all of the pins are swine flu though. Further south in Toms River, the situation is a little different, with a West Nile outbreak reported from migrating birds, for example:
Using the List view, you can also see more detail, such as Hepatitis B in Toms River and swine flu in around Cornell University in NY. All fascinating information.
Interestingly, the app allows you to submit any potential outbreaks yourself. This would be very useful for E. Coli poisonings, particularly if they warn people early enough to avoid a wider scale problem developing:
I particularly like the alerts feature, which allows you to receive information on a particular topic of interest. This might be Lyme Disease, if you live in a rural area or E. Coli outbreaks, or whatever is common in your area.
You can also search by keyword or disease. On typing in E. coli, the app took me to the UK and showed a map of England and Wales with 2 known outbreaks. Clicking on the pin in England brought up information on two outbreaks in Surrey, except that the pin was located somewhere NE of Nottingham in the Midlands, a bit disconcerting! For US readers, Surrey is a county located south of London so the pin was maybe 150-200 miles off target.
Overall, I liked the app. It was fast, intuitive and easy to use, didn't crash on me and provided a ton of interesting and useful information relating to infectious disease outbreaks. I was pleasantly surprised. It's also free and for those of you who do not have an iPhone, there is also a website for more granular information.
It's good to see some high quality and useful web 2.0 apps coming out in the health space. Let me know if you come across any others, it's always good to see what is out there.