A dig­ital sur­veil­lance pro­gram used Twitter feeds and news head­lines to pick up on the Ebola out­break in West Africa a full nine days before the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion pro­claimed it an epidemic.

But that doesn’t mean the out­break could have been prevented.

Dr. Alessandro Vespig­nani, a pro­fessor of com­puter sci­ence and physics at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, uses net­work sci­ence to model and fore­cast the spread of disease. Like HealthMap, the online tool cited above, Vespignani’s com­puter sim­u­la­tions cannot antic­i­pate an out­break before it actu­ally begins.

They don’t have a crystal ball either,” he says. “HealthMap is really a novel way of doing dis­ease sur­veil­lance that can pro­vide a real edge in the early detec­tion of out­breaks by mon­i­toring news arti­cles, jour­nals, Twitter or other dig­ital sources. But they can’t do this before the actual occur­rence of the event. There was already a sit­u­a­tion in West Africa. HealthMap was just able to pick up the anomaly before anyone else.”

As the death toll climbs over 1,000 in West Africa, I was curious to know what makes this par­tic­ular out­break so relent­less and what the global com­mu­nity can do to con­tain its spread.

Read the article at WBUR →