The Internet has established itself as the faster, better tool for tracking disease, trumping the traditional method of collating reports from clinics and hospitals. The progress of a viral disease can be tracked almost in real time by geolocating searches for medical aid. The data is easily visualised like a wavefront which has velocity and direction, and it helps public health authorities to prepare for disasters before the wave hits.
However, services like HealthMap and Google’s Flu Trends and Dengue Trends suffer from two shortcomings. They are not open source, which means that data and/or programs cannot be manipulated freely. Besides, these are straightforward vector maps designed for immediate interventions by health workers. They do not provide the data depth that policymakers and researchers may require.
Now, a paper by Geoffrey Fairchild, Sara Y Del Valle, Lalindra De Silva and Alberto M Serge, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Universities of Utah and Iowa, demonstrates that Wikipedia provides a better resource than Google, offering multiple strands of data — geolocated contributors, repeated edits, images, external sources, etc., which accurately visualise both the progress of disease and the response to it.