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iPhone app warns of swine flu

21st September 2009

A new application that can track outbreaks of swine flu within populations has been developed for Apple iPhone users.

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The new application, which is called Outbreaks Near Me, lets people see a real-time picture of swine flu outbreaks in areas around where they live.

The application makes use of freely available data, including information from the US Centres for Disease control, people's blogs, and the microblogging service Twitter, among others.

All available information about swine flu outbreaks is collated and mapped by the website HealthMap, and users of the program are encouraged to add their own reports.

HealthMap was developed by John Brownstein of the Children’s Hospital Boston and Clark Freifeld of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The website, which has been in operation since September 2006, monitors information sources in five languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and French.

Brownstein said that the application is a new way to disseminate information to a device that everyone has on them all the time.

He said that he wants to encourage people to use basic prevention practices, such as good day-to-day hygiene and vaccinations.

However, the developers of the application say that they are not making any guarantees that it will limit the spread of swine flu.

Freifeld said that he thinks that having more information and being more informed is better than nothing, but that his team wants people to use their own good judgement to interpret the information they receive.

Hannah Gould at the US Centers for Disease Control said that she thinks that such advances make public health surveillance data more user-friendly.

Although Outbreaks Near Me is currently only available for the iPhone, Brownstein and Freifeld plan to release versions that will be compatible with other smartphone technology such as the open source Google Android.

Currently Outbreaks Near Me is only available for the iPhone. However, Brownstein and Freifeld plan to release Android and Blackberry versions in the near future.



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