Local Researchers Monitor Infectious Disease Outbreaks Around The World

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Dozens more American health workers will soon be headed to locations throughout West Africa as part of a global response to the Ebola outbreak that many experts fear is coming too late.

At congressional hearings this week, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told lawmakers it would take at least three to six months to end the outbreak.

“We are taking an extensive effort to do everything we can to stop the outbreaks,” Frieden said.

Had the international community responded faster, some medical experts believe, the spread of the virus might have been slowed.

A crucial part of that process is identifying the problem in the first place. That’s where a company called Epidemico comes in. It is a spinoff of Boston Children’s Hospital, one of whose ongoing projects is a website called healthmap.org.

In March, their sophisticated tracking system spotted an article about a mystery illness that killed 23 people in a Guinean newspaper.

With that, Ebola popped onto their screens.

“Definitely there’s huge amounts of information coming from those regions that’s useful for public health,” says healthmap.org’s founder John Brownstein, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

Healthmap.org and the researchers behind it scour websites around the globe and put the pieces together. In the case of Ebola, their findings offered an early head’s up to U.S. health officials.

“The idea is that we can tap into a massive amount of data and whittle it down to the most useful elements,” Brownstein explains. “If we can tap into the collective intelligence, we can identify things much faster and actually respond faster.”

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