National Preparedness Month: What Emergencies Are Trending Right Now?

Sep 19, 2012, 2:17 PM

In time for National Preparedness Month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced a new challenge winner, MappyHealth—a web-based Twitter app.

MappyHealth is the winning submission in a developers’ challenge, “Now Trending: #Health in My Community,” sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Health officials can use data they get 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 idea came from studies of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the Haiti cholera outbreak that found that social media trends can detect disease outbreaks earlier than conventional surveillance methods. “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,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Today, MappyHealth is tracking the following as the top conditions by tweet count:

  1. Common cold
  2. Mosquito-borne disease
  3. STD
  4. Pertussis
  5. Tuberculosis

To be eligible for the challenge, developers had to use open-source Twitter data to automatically deliver a list of the top five trending illnesses over a 24-hour period in a specified geographic region and provide the information in an easily accessible Web-based environment. Health agencies can cross-reference the data from MappyHealth with conventional health surveillance systems to build a baseline of trends, and determine emerging public health threats.

The new app will be presented during an HHS-sponsored public forum on citizen-generated data, and the app will be available in the next few weeks to state, territorial, tribal and local health agencies.

This is the second ASPR challenge. The first was the ASPR Facebook Lifeline App Challenge. The winner was a Facebook application, bReddi, aimed at enhancing individual and community resilience by establishing social connections ahead of an emergency. bReddi became available on Facebook June 1 to help people create and share preparedness plans and get support from friends and family in any type of emergency.

>>Bonus links: Find out more about emergency preparedness and follow ASPR on Twitter.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.