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Androids help prevent dengue outbreaks in Pakistan

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A new system of tracking and predicting dengue outbreaks is saving hundreds of lives in Pakistan.

Researchers working for the Pakistani government developed an early epidemic detection system that looks for telltale signs of a serious outbreak in the data gathered by government employees searching for mosquito larvae and confirmed cases reported from hospitals. Technology Review reports.

Then when the system’s algorithms spot an impending outbreak, government employees would go to the region to clear mosquito breeding grounds – such as pools of water -- and kill the larvae.

Last year, dengue fever infected around 16,000 people and took 352 lives in Lahore, Pakistan. This year, there are 234 confirmed cases and no deaths.

“We could look at a map and tell if certain areas were going to develop into an epidemic,” says Umar Saif at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. By localizing the disease, they can quarantine it.

The groundwork for the early detection system was accomplished by Flubreaks, which processes data from Google Flu Trends, which estimates the spread of flu based on disease-related search terms. But while Google Flu Trends identifies outbreaks as they occur, Flubreaks can see them before they start by teasing out global flu trends and making early epidemic predictions.

This summer -- using 1,500 Android phones -- government workers in the region tracked the location and timing of confirmed dengue cases and the mosquito larvae that carry the disease. The Androids localized the outbreak to just a couple hundred houses.

They plan to verify their dengue epidemic prediction tools using Google Dengue Trends.

[Via Technology Review]

Image: Aedes aegypti / James Gathany, CDC

— By on November 1, 2012, 4:18 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure