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Big Data Analytics To Help CDC Track Pandemics

With the Ebola threat still looming large, widespread efforts are being made to identify, quarantine and treat possible carriers. BigMosaic, a big data analytics program developed by the Centers for Disease Control in collaboration with Healthmap will aid CDC in monitoring new cases and work with the West African expat community.

Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, explained at a public discussion on Tuesday – “We have the near real-time availability of the global air transportation network, and we’re able to identify, and in a sense target, the risk populations, the diaspora populations from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where they’re distributed down from the county-and-below levels, so we have a mosaic map of the U.S., and in some cases with other countries’ data.”

CDC, HealthMap, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Toronto-based BlueDot (formerly, BioDiaspora), worked together to see this app to completion. Utilizing census, demographic and migration health data of expat populations in the U.S. from 105 countries of birth, it can track the spread of infectious diseases globally, while also breaking down the population by education level, household income, and English speaking ability, reports MedCity News.

BioDiaspora had developed, an online tool charting spread of infectious diseases through international travellers. BioMosaic, using BioDiaspora, maps census data, migration patterns and health status identifies countries where international travel may give rise to emerging disease.

“CDC layers many data sets atop one another to create this mosaic map of the diaspora population both on the move and statically in terms of the resident population,” Cetron points out. “There are a number of big data sets that we access and aggregate, the common feature is that all of them are geo-coded,” Cetron said.

“So we bring in weather data, climate data, we bring in global distribution of poultry, we bring in distribution of swine populations, vector disease incidents from [the World Health Organization] and other sets, and pull all these things together and then put them in a way that they can be easily visualized or queried.”

Health kits with thermometers and mobile phones were distributed by CDC at airports that also debriefed on marking symptoms and instructions for the use of the kit. An estimated 100 mobile phones would allow CDC to exchange information with the users for a month.

Asked about the calls the CDC has handled for the program, Cetron said people queried about a fever but it turned out to be unrelated to Ebola. It has also helped direct people to local health facilities.

He further added in an Q&A with Peter Beinart of The Atlantic- “Epidemics of disease are frequently followed by epidemics of fear … and stigma. The epidemic of fear is understandable given the nature of this disease. But we need to make sure we get the balance right when we speak to the media…The disease needs to be controlled at the source.”

Read more here.


(Image credit: DFID)

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