UPDATED 12:15 EDT / OCTOBER 06 2014

Track Ebola’s US spread with these 5 tools

Track Ebola’s US spread with these 5 tools

World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward

Ebola is one of the more deadly communicable diseases in the world. With today’s technology, including Big Data’s advanced analytics capabilities, there is no need to remain in the dark about Ebola and developments concerning its spread in the U.S. and around the world. What follows is a list of resources and services for tracking Ebola, as well as a look at what Big Data can do to help.

5 ways you can track the spread of Ebola


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – The CDC’s Ebola resource center includes basic information about the disease, history, audio and video on the subject, infographics, an outbreak map, and prevention banners, posters and brochures.

2. World Health Organization – The WHO Ebola virus information site features an Ebola response roadmap, technical information about the virus, instructional documents about prevention and control, patient care instructions, laboratory safety precautions, epidemiology, and a wide variety of articles with more in-depth research and historical context.

3. HealthMap – Created by researchers and developers at Boston Children’s Hospital, HealthMap uses information online resources to monitor and provide real-time surveillance of public health threats. Its Ebola tracker features a map along with a timeline of the outbreak, projections, specific cases and number of deaths. The map utilizes Google Maps technology.

4. Health Intelligence – Tableau, Inc. provides Big Data visualization, and Ramon Martinez from Health Intelligence has used Tableau to create a visual chronology, prediction of outbreak cases, and a tracker that appears to update weekly with new outbreak information.

5. Raw data – One of the obstacles to mining Ebola data has been that many of the reports from healthcare agencies in West Africa have been provided in PDF, which is not inherently machine readable. Caitlin Rivers, a PhD student at Virginia Tech, recognized this problem and has been manually updating the data by hand, publishing the results on her GitHub account. In conjunction with this effort, the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory is hosting the “Computing for Ebola Challenge” October 3 through 10 to encourage developers to create apps to help fight Ebola.

The Role of Big Data


Information about Ebola is constantly pouring in from both official (WHO, CDC, etc.) and unofficial (Twitter and other social media) sources. In order to effectively paint an organic picture of the developing situation, some degree of Big Data analysis is necessary. Both HealthMap, using Google Maps, and Health Intelligence, using Tableau visualization, are sifting through the data to reveal relevant information on an ongoing basis.

When the outbreak began in March of 2014, HealthMap was able to publish the earliest English language mentions of it nine days before the World Health Organization announced the epidemic. HealthMap’s Big Data analysis detected blog posts about Ebola symptoms from healthcare workers in Guinea before any formal investigations had been announced.

Nevertheless, the WHO was actually aware of the outbreak before its formal announcement, and in this case, a French news article from Xinhua beat out HealthMap’s Big Data analysis. It took several more days, however, before the WHO officially declared the epidemic.

As is the case with most developing information, both Big Data and traditional media played roles, and both can be very useful in early detection, prevention and tracking. To effectively track and document Ebola developments, healthcare agencies and researchers should continue to utilize all resources available. That includes both traditional media and Big Data analysis.

photo credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via photopin cc

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