HealthMap Visualizes Global Disease Outbreaks

Where in the world is an infectious disease outbreak occurring right now? Is it in your neighborhood? What is the status of potential pandemics in other countries?

This information is only a click away at HealthMap, the leading global data visualization for aggregating infectious disease data on an interactive visual map. You can access HealthMap via the main site, or through the free mobile application, Outbreaks Near Me.

Natural disasters have the potential to lead to disease outbreaks, so HealthMap monitors catastrophes carefully. Right now, HealthMap is aggregating alerts from Japan, after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Reports range from radiation levels detected in food to several outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, HealthMap provided real-time data about cholera outbreaks mapped together with emergency shelters, safe water installations and health facilities – critical information for both the public and response teams. Outbreaks Near Me was instrumental in providing updated flu activity reports across North America during the major wave of the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.

Co-creator John S. Brownstein, Ph.D. says that HealthMap is “a free resource for the general public, clinicians and policy makers, and public health practitioners, in a user-friendly format that anybody can access.” Brownstein is an instructor at the Faculty of Children’s Hospital Informatics Program at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology, Harvard Medical School.

Anyone can use HealthMap in a variety of ways:

*Explore the map by country or neighborhood by zooming the view

*Search for a specific disease or location in the search bar

*Access a Quick View topic in the tab menus, e.g. Focus on Japan, Cholera in Haiti

*Review alerts reported for the last 5 days in the summary pane

*Use advanced search tools to choose specific alert feeds like Google news, the World Health Organization, or ProMED mail (Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases email)

Free registration is not required to report an alert, but only registered users can rate alerts or comment. Over time, as more users add information to an alert, the quality of the report increases. Alerts flow in from over 30,000 sources in nine languages, on a 24/7/365 basis, from news media, scientific reports, eyewitness accounts and official health organization communications.

To verify the data, a panel of disease experts, epidemiologists, veterinarians and clinicians identify which alerts indicate significant public health pathogens. Brownstein confirms that an individual expert reviews every report. The severity of a particular pathogen is indicated by the alert color, ranging from yellow to red as the most severe.

HealthMap is now part of the PREDICT project, a strategic alliance among several organizations to build a global early warning program to identify and reduce the impact of zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic infectious diseases are those that move between wildlife and people and have the potential to cause pandemics, such as influenza, Ebola, HIV or SARS.

HealthMap is working together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO to develop case studies about how digital data has led to better public health outcomes. Brownstein and team recently analyzed major disease outbreaks from the last 15 years and found that response times have decreased to a couple of weeks from what used to take months.

The WHO says that global health in the 21st century is a shared responsibility, one that requires a collective defense against disease threats. By aggregating data from disparate sources and presenting them in a clear and easy-to-navigate visual map, HealthMap is providing critical global health information to everyone.


Visit to learn more about how to create, save and share customized maps, submit, rate or comment on an alert. Download HealthMap’s free mobile app Outbreaks Near Me for your iPhone or Android smartphone. Visit Healthymagination: Visualizing Data to see other visualizations about health information presented in clear, digestible graphics.

Originally published on GE Healthy Outlook,  June 3, 2011. Copyright Jane Langille.

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