Web got wind early of Ebola outbreak
BOSTON — The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.
HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians' social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.
“It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what's happening that's useful to these public health agencies,” HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein said.
HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children's Hospital.
The tool was introduced in 2006 with a core audience of public health specialists, but that changed as the system evolved and the public became increasingly hungry for information during the swine flu pandemic.
It generates information that includes locations of specific outbreaks and tracks new cases and deaths. The system is also capable of logging public sentiment.
The Ebola outbreak, the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease, has so far killed more than 950 people. It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
On Saturday, Guinea closed its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in a bid to halt the spread of the epidemic.
Meanwhile, riot police in Liberia raced to quell a demonstration blocking the nation's busiest highway as an angry crowd protested the government's delays in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims.
Several bodies had been lying by the roadside for two days in the central town of Weala, 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia, and no government agency had picked them up, residents said.
The Ebola virus spreads through the bodily fluids of its victims, and many in West Africa fear becoming infected if they touch or handle corpses.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Dems keep blocking joint negotiations on immigration orders
- Reports: Actor Ford seriously injured in small-plane crash in L.A.
- Modified endoscope linked to deadly ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA approval
- Latest winter blast strands airline passengers, motorists
- $4.8M in gold taken in armored truck hijacking in North Carolina
- Weapon supply vulnerable to hackers, Pentagon official warns
- EPA ripped for evading request for information
- Hillary Clinton may have broken federal record-keeping laws, New York Times reports
- Clinton portrait refers to Lewinsky scandal, Philadelphia artist says
- Blankenship: US prosecution ‘selective and vindictive’
- Dig uncovers ancient stone tool in eastern Oregon