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New iPhone App Tracks Infectious Diseases

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Want to find out about swine flu outbreaks in your neighborhood? There's an app for that, too.

Just in time for the return of flu season, there is a free new iPhone application that lets users track and report infectious disease outbreaks.

The new app is called Outbreaks Near Me. It is based on a technology called HealthMap (iTunes link) and gets its data from searching about 30,000 web sites for reports of emerging diseases from H1N1 to salmonella to HIV. Then it uses GPS technology to find outbreaks in a user’s exact location. It also lets users submit outbreak information.

John Brownstein, an assistant professor at Children’s Hospital Boston, helped develop the app with the MIT Media Lab.

“If you’re traveling somewhere, you can put in the location that you happen to be going to, or you can choose a disease of interest and see where it’s popping up around the world,” Brownstein said. “Just like you can identify the restaurants near you or where you might have parked your car, now you can find out where the outbreaks are taking place.”

Brownstein said he hopes the app will help raise awareness of infectious diseases and get people to take appropriate precautions, such as frequent hand-washing and getting vaccinated when possible.

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