How healthy is that tropical paradise?
Now you can satisfy your morbid curiosity and discover what diseases are plaguing your favorite vacation spot before hopping the next flight. Instead of stumbling through a host of blogs and news sites, visit www.healthmap.org, created by Boston epidemiologist Clark Freifeld and research software developer John Brownstein to track disease outbreaks around the world.
The site gathers epidemiological data and news from the International Society for Infectious Diseases, the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and places it on a map, updated hourly. A fourth source of information is Google News, because "the media reports on disease outbreaks earlier than traditional sources" such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brownstein said.
The map loads with all countries visible, along with all diseases that have been mentioned in the past 30 days. Red, orange and yellow markers indicate hot spots. You can concentrate on a region or disease by using the zoom feature or scroll menus. Focus on Bolivia, for example, and you'll see an orange marker indicating an outbreak of dengue (bonebreak) fever. Dengue causes fever, intense headaches and joint and muscle pain. Click on the marker, and a pop-up box offers news links showing 118 confirmed cases and 459 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease as of Feb. 7. Hmmmm. Maybe we want to put off that trip. ...
Freifeld and Brownstein say the site is a work in progress. They plan to add more news links, increase the site's sensitivity to health alerts, fine-tune the map and build multilingual text-processing software. (Currently the site gathers information from English-language sites only.)