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Infectious Disease Research Gets a Boost from Websites, Blogs, and Social Media

Marcel Salathé will publish an article describing a new field of research known as digital epidemiology. This field is of increasing importance for tracking outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the one caused by a novel coronavirus, pictured here. (Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

Marcel Salathé will publish an article describing a new field of research known as digital epidemiology. This field is of increasing importance for tracking outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the one caused by a novel coronavirus, pictured here. (Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

courtesy ScienceDaily

July 3, 2013 — While public health officials around the world are on alert about the  pandemic potential of new disease threats, a team that includes Penn  State University biologist Marcel Salathé is developing  innovative new systems and techniques to track the spread of infectious  diseases, with the help of news websites, blogs, and social media.

An  article by Salathé and colleagues from the Harvard Medical School is published July 3, 2013 in the online  issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The article describes the  advantages and challenges of “digital epidemiology” — a new field of  increasing importance for tracking infectious disease outbreaks and  epidemics by leveraging the widespread use of the Internet and mobile  phones.

“In the past year, the world has seen an emerging outbreak of two  viruses with considerable pandemic potential: Middle East Respiratory  Syndrome Coronavirus and Avian Influenza A H7N9,” Salathé said. He  explained that the former is similar to the virus responsible for the  SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 and has, since 2012, infected 64 people,  38 of them fatally. Influenza A H7N9 is a virus that normally circulates  in birds but has, since the beginning of 2013, infected 137 people, 32  of them fatally.

“Digital epidemiology played a crucial role in the surveillance of  both Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus and Avian Influenza A  H7N9 by enhancing transparency and helping public health officials to  understand outbreaks more fully. It is clear that the importance of  digital epidemiology will only increase in the future as more people get  mobile access to broadband around the globe,” said Salathé, who uses  data from social media in his research to study how sentiments about  vaccination spread in populations. “With 6.8 billion mobile-phones and  2.9 billion people online, it’s getting increasingly hard for any  micro-organism to spread undetected for long.”

Salathé also said he predicts that digital epidemiology will not be  limited to just infectious diseases for long. “Mining these novel,  big-data streams is of enormous interest to practically anyone  interested in health and disease,” he said. “For example, researchers  and public health officials could use data-mining techniques to detect  adverse drug reactions, assess mental disorders, or track health  behaviors much faster than they do with traditional methods.”

Salathé added that he is honored to have the opportunity to reach  such a wide audience through the New England Journal of  Medicine. “We’re hoping to put Digital Epidemiology on the  agenda of every public health agency to complement their traditional  efforts to track diseases and assess and mitigate the spread of  infectious diseases,” he said.

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by Katrina Voss.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marcel Salathé, Clark C. Freifeld, Sumiko R. Mekaru, Anna F. Tomasulo, John S. Brownstein. Influenza A (H7N9) and the Importance of Digital Epidemiology. New England Journal of Medicine, 2013; 130703140022001 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1307752
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Penn State (2013, July 3). Infectious disease research gets a boost from websites, blogs, and social media. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/07/130701172112.htm

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