iPhone Applications Are a Helping Hand in Fighting Pandemics

Transform ways consumers learn of health threats

By Deborah Yao Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA – A tap on the HealthMap iPhone application brings up a cluster of red pins on a map, representing nearby cases of swine flu. Another tap brings up a form for ordinary Americans to add to the collection by reporting bouts they have or know about.

HealthMap Outbreaks Near Me is among scores of iPhone apps, along with social networks, Wikipedia and flu-tracking sites, that give consumers new ways to share information, shape conversations, and keep tabs on swine flu and other health threats like it.

With instant two-way communication unavailable during past pandemics and smaller outbreaks, the public now can help paint a fuller picture of what’s happening and complement the often delayed and restrained announcements from health officials.

And though swine flu infections have been waning since October, the apps and other digital tools have transformed the way such health crises will be tracked in years to come. They offer a window into the opportunities – and dangers – that come with the rapid spread of information from everyday people.

These digital tools could open the door to mass panic from unreliable or false reports. After all, the public is often unfamiliar with medical terminology and can mistake ordinary colds for more serious illnesses such as the swine flu.  READ ALL

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