As the number of reported Zika cases in the United States continues to rise, many government and public health officials are turning to a recently developed Zika-specific disease tracker to trace and anticipate the spread of the virus. The team of researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital behind HealthMap have recently rolled out the Zika Map — an online, user-friendly map and timeline, outlining the geographic history, global range, and relative distribution of the virus.
By aggregating information from a wide range of sources, including certified health reports and social media posts, HealthMap is able to provide users with an all-encompassing, up to date summary of disease outbreaks. Originally established in the fall of 2015, the Zika Map was created in response to the Zika outbreak in South America last year. The website consists of a world map with colored dots to indicate the geographic locations of reported Zika cases. The map can also be played as an animation, illustrating the transmission of Zika over time, as well as details related to each case.
“By leveraging feeds such as social media, online news articles, Twitter chats, and official public health reports, HealthMap’s Zika Map provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of the outbreak,” HealthMap Program Coordinator, Colleen Nguyen, said.
According to Nguyen, the map is designed to be a public health tool for government officials, as well as a source of information for the general public. “Our goal is to provide epidemiologists and governments the most accurate and exact information as early as possible, so governments can respond better to […] Zika,” she said. “For the public, this would be one central place they could go to get all the information they would need regarding Zika’s latest developments and updates.”
Over the last year, the virus has become extremely prevalent in South and Central America, and an outbreak was recently reported in Miami, Florida. By utilizing the Zika Map, healthcare officials can not only track these current trends, but also predict new ones.
“While we can’t say for sure where Zika may appear next, we are definitely keeping an eye on the southern U.S. states over the course of the summer and where [Zika] may appear after the Olympics,” Nguyen said.
As the Zika virus continues to spread worldwide, HealthMap’s Zika Map will remain an integral and informative tool to government administrators, healthcare providers, and affected communities.
Anokhi is an editorial intern at MedTech Boston and a student in the Medical Scholars program at the University of California, San Diego. She is extremely passionate about journalism and science and hopes to combine them in her future as a physician. In her free time, Anokhi loves dancing, baking, and hanging out with her friends.
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