10 Ways We're Using Data to Fight Disease


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Predicting Outbreaks for Mosquito-borne Diseases
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. This mosquito transmits the Zika virus and is being studied at the institute. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. This mosquito transmits the Zika virus and is being studied at the institute. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Mosquitoes have long been spreaders of illnesses like malaria and dengue fever, so gathering information about the types of mosquitoes that carry these diseases and where they live can help us in our fight against these conditions. The more recent outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus Zika has shown us just how scary it can be to have a lack of data on how a disease spreads and what it can do to people.

To help battle these mosquito-spread illnesses, scientists from IBM, Johns Hopkins and the University of California San Francisco have collaborated on creating open source software that allows epidemiologists to make predictive disease models [source: Ungerleider]. The software is designed so that epidemiologists with minimal coding knowledge can still use it to run data analysis, predict the trajectory of outbreaks and plan strategies to contain disease spread.

The program uses data from the World Health Organization that shows a region's general sensitivity to outbreaks, population models of both humans and mosquitoes, and climate data that pinpoints potential outbreak locations. Taken together, this data can slow down the spread of mosquito-borne viruses.