HST MEMP alum Rumi Chunara is one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 under 35

Crucial information about disease outbreaks can be gleaned earlier.

Problem: Our systems for detecting outbreaks of disease are unreliable. Typically, word of outbreaks bubbles up as patients see health professionals, who report cases to authorities. Those authorities often can’t piece the reports together in time to prevent significant numbers of other people from getting sick.

Solution: Rumi Chunara, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is mining social media and other online sources for information outside of medical settings. In one study, Chunara found that a rise in cholera-related Twitter posts in Haiti correlated with an outbreak of the disease. “That’s important, because it takes the ministry of health in Haiti a couple of weeks to get their data aggregated,” she says. In future outbreaks, tweets could help direct medical workers earlier and ensure that supplies like water purification tablets get where they’re needed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014