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Boston Children's Hospital Receives Gift from Google.org to Battle Bugs and Viruses Online with International Society of Infectious Diseases


Unique Gift Leverages Internet Power

to Predict and Prevent Global Pandemics

October 21, 2008 – BOSTON, MA --Twenty Pandemics and emerging diseases can occur at any time, causing death and disruption of commerce and health care services in affected areas and worldwide. The global movement of people, animals, plants and food mean that infectious diseases that start in the most remote parts of the world may spread quickly around the world. Health experts' ability to rapidly recognize and respond to potential pandemics and emerging diseases has become ever more critical.

Boston Children's Hospital has received a $3 million grant from Google.org to combine Boston Children's Hospital's HealthMap digital detection efforts with the International Society of Infectious Diseases ProMED-mail global network of human, animal, and ecosystem health specialists.

Launched by John Brownstein, PhD, and Clark Freifeld within the Boston Children's Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP) at Boston Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School in 1996, HealthMap is a multi-stream and multi-lingual disease-mining system that trawls the Internet for information on infectious outbreaks, including not-so-usual sources like news reports, blogs and chat rooms. By filtering and synthesizing these myriad sources, HealthMap provides a bird's-eye view of global health, with interactive maps and color-coded alerts of infectious "hot spots," and is able to sound warnings about outbreaks well before they're reported by official sources. "We've traced the earliest reports of the SARS virus back to Internet chat rooms where people were talking about this problem going on in Guangdong Province in China," notes Brownstein.

During the past 2 years, HealthMap and ProMED have worked together to produce a mapping system for ProMED-mail reports, automatically parsing reports, recognizing disease names and geographic locations, and placing them on an online interactive world map. The map may be customized by individual disease, time range and language of report.

The gift supports three main goals:

  • Identify hot spots: Knowing where to look is critical to disease surveillance These programs will assess current emerging disease reporting systems and develop a global baseline of emerging infectious diseases.
  • Detect diseases earlier: The gift will help improve HealthMap and ProMED-Mails' efforts to identify the earliest signs of disease outbreaks through monitoring of news sources, mailing lists, chat rooms, blogs and more.
  • Respond quickly: With rising international travel and trade, outbreaks can go global within hours. Once diseases are detected, health officials must respond quickly, and across borders, to save lives. They plan expand regional public health networks in Africa and Southeast Asia to improve disease reporting and intervention efforts.

 

"We are immensely excited about Google.org's generous grant," said John Brownstein, PhD, co-founder of HealthMap and assistant professor at Boston Children's Hospital's Informatics Program (CHIP). "The gift will enhance HealthMap and ProMED-mail's ability to use information and technology to empower communities to predict and prevent emerging threats before they become local, regional, or global crises."

Google.org has committed more than $23 million to date to support "Predict & Prevent" initiative partners.

"Linking two successful disease early warning systems, HealthMap and ProMED-mail, will bring the power of digital technology to ProMED-mail and human curation to HealthMap. We believe together they'll make big strides towards the goal of more rapidly reporting every outbreak," said Frank Rijsberman, Program Director, Google.org.

About Boston Children's Hospital: Boston Children's Hospital, an internationally renowned center for medical research and treatment, is one of the only pediatric hospitals nationwide that focuses on pairing world-class research with clinical resources to develop top therapies to treat and cure children. Many of the hospital's scientific advancements have far-reaching implications for treating adults, too – they target diseases including prostate and breast cancer, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer's. For more information, visit www.childrenshospital.org.

About HealthMap: Launched in September 2006, HealthMap (http://www.healthmap.org/) is a multi-stream, real-time surveillance platform that continually aggregates reports on new and ongoing infectious disease outbreaks. The system extracts, categorizes, filters, and integrates these reports, facilitating knowledge management and advancing understanding and early detection of outbreaks. HealthMap provides a starting point for real-time intelligence on a broad range of emerging infectious diseases, and is designed for a diverse range of users, including public health officials and international travelers. HealthMap is now a direct information source for approximately 50,000 unique visitors per month, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

AboutProMED-mail and the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID): Created in 1986, ISID and its 20,000 members are committed to improving the care of patients with infectious diseases, the training of clinicians and researchers in infectious diseases and microbiology, and the control of infectious diseases around the world. ProMED-mail (the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases), a program of the ISID is a free Internet based reporting system that provides up-to-date and reliable news about threats to human, animal, and food plant health around the world, seven days a week. Electronic communications enable ProMED-mail. By providing early warning of outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases, public health precautions at all levels can be taken in a timely manner to prevent epidemic transmission and to save lives. ProMED-mail has more than 47,000 subscribers from 165 countries and is distributed in five languages. http://www.isid.org/

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