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HHS releases early detection system through Twitter


WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services last week unveiled a new free Web-based application, MappyHealth, which utilizes Twitter to help track health concerns at the community level in real time.

“Having real-time information available in the public domain through social media like Twitter could be revolutionary for health officials watching out for the first clues to new, emerging infectious diseases in our communities and for modernizing our public health system,” stated Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “We were excited to receive so many innovative submissions to our challenge because our goal is to stimulate creativity in the market so that better tools develop to improve public health surveillance locally and worldwide.”

MappyHealth is the winning submission of 33 applicants in a developers’ challenge, “Now Trending: #Health in My Community,” sponsored by HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Health officials can use data they gain through the app to complement other health surveillance systems in identifying emerging health issues and as an early warning of possible public health emergencies in a community.

The challenge grew from a request made by local health officials to ASPR for help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring more accessible to local health departments. Studies of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the Haiti cholera outbreak demonstrated that social media trends can indicate disease outbreaks earlier than conventional surveillance methods. However, many Web-based apps look back after a disease outbreak, rather than attempting to identify health trends as they emerge in real time.

The MappyHealth development team wins a $21,000 prize for the application. The new application will be available in the next few weeks to state, territorial, tribal and local health agencies.

The Now Trending challenge was the second public health challenge sponsored by ASPR in the past year. Through the first challenge, the ASPR Facebook Lifeline App Challenge, developers designed a new Facebook application, bReddi, that could enhance individual and community resilience by establishing social connections in advance of an emergency. The winning lifeline apps became available June 1 on Facebook to help people create and share preparedness plans and get support from friends and family in any type of emergency.

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