Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Iphone tracks swine flu??

Just when you thought there was an iphone application for everything, scientists and programmers at Children's Hospital in Boston have outdone themselves. As a jealous non-iphone-owner, I often ridicule the ludicrous and often unnecessary programs proliferating for everything from a virtual shotgun to cocktail recipes. However, this latest application, created by John Brownstein and Clark Freifield, is a time-sensitive map of outbreak occurrence in the nation that has the potential to provide an undersupplied public service. 'Outbreaks Near Me' was created alongside the rising threat of swine flu, to allow people to access updated information about the spread of a disease that has seemed largely mysterious to the public since its most recent, rather abrupt appearance in April 2009. As Brownstein explained: "You can search for restaurants near you. Why not understand what is happening around you in public health?" The tool is meant for both epidemiologists, to trace patterns of infection, and for the general public, as a warning system that highlights places to avoid to prevent exposure to infection. On the other hand, critics believe that this type of tool in the hands of the populous could lead to panics in the same way that the diagnostic website WebMD has been known to fuel hypochondria.

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