Online tools will help monitor potential disease outbreaks at the Olympics

The combination of an online surveillance system that tracks infectious diseases and technology to predict population movements via commercial air travel could help to mitigate the risk of a disease spreading at a mass gathering such as the Olympics, researchers publishing in The Lancet recently concluded.

Specifically, the authors pointed to the Global Public Health Intelligence Network and HealthMap as tools that could rise to such a challenge, at least on the disease surveillance side. They also mentioned Bio.Diaspora--a tool that tracks global air travel patterns to predict the spreading of infectious diseases--as technology relevant to such a cause, according to an article in Medical News Today.

Lead researcher Kamran Khan, of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and his colleagues used similar methods to perform an analysis of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. By narrowing down that most visitors to Vancouver via air travel originated from 25 cities, they were able to center their real-time threat monitoring efforts. Such efforts will be used for actual risk assessment at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

"Opportunities for these two products of globalization to interact are increasing with potentially serious implications to health, security and economic activity worldwide," the authors wrote. "The early and continued engagement of planners, health officials in the host city and country and international public health organizations will be essential to ensure that new knowledge can be effectively converted into real benefits for both local and global public health security."

HealthMap, in combination with Twitter, was found to have forecasted a cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010. The technology also was used frequently in combination with other technologies during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

What's more, researchers also recently concluded that Google Flu Trends could serve as a good predictor of patient activity for hospitals' emergency departments.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the Medical News Today article

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