While we wait for scientists to perfect a vaccine for the H1N1 virus, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and the MIT Media Lab have offered up a helpful tool in our arsenal against the flu: the Outbreaks Near Me iPhone app, which allows users to report and track infectious disease outbreaks as they happen.
The application uses information from HealthMap, an online global disease alert map that keeps track of emerging infectious diseases and offers aggregated data and visual representations of outbreaks. Described as "grassroots, participatory epidemiology" by HealthMap cofounder and MIT Media Lab student Clark Freifeld, the new app allows users to take photos of potential disease-related situations and scenarios. We're not quite sure what that would entail—pictures of people sneezing and wearing face masks, perhaps?—but pictures submitted to HealthMap for review are posted as a disease alert on the map.
HealthMap won't necessarily be able to filter out bogus disease reports, so users will be charged with sifting through the swine flu hysteria. If it catches on, though, Outbreaks Near Me could be a critical tool for the public in making decisions about whether to keep the kids out of school or work from home.
If you can't get enough of the H1N1 infographics, Flutracker offers a swine flu-tracking map that is updated from official sources and user contributions multiple times each day.