“The fact that we were able to predict influenza outbreaks faster than China’s national surveillance programs really shows the capacity for everyday, wearable digital health devices to track the spread of disease at the population level,” says the study’s lead author Yulin Hswen, who is a research fellow in Boston Children’s Computational Epidemiology Group and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
China has 620 million mobile internet users who can theoretically access the standalone Thermia application from any computer, smartphone or even the Amazon Alexa assistant.
Although the Boston Children’s team has previously demonstrated that social media can be used to track disease, this is the first time they’ve shown that outbreaks can be predicted through an integrated wearable device and online tool. …
This past week, the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games began in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with more than 11,000 athletes and 500,000 international fans expected to arrive. As a major mass gathering, the Olympic Games are always vulnerable to disease outbreaks. This summer, all eyes in public health are on the concurrently occurring Zika virus and the under-reported H1N1 influenza outbreak in Brazil.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), visitors to the 2016 Games are most at risk for gastrointestinal illness from waterborne pathogens and mosquito-borne infections, including dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus. So far in 2016, we have seen an estimated 165,000 cases of Zika virus, 1,345,286 cases of dengue, 137,808 cases of chikungunya and more than 6,500 cases of H1N1 influenza, with an additional 1,233 deaths from H1N1 — all in Brazil alone. …
Schools have manned the front lines in the battle against childhood obesity. Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama has promoted low-cal lunches, fresh produce and more. Now, she hopes to ban junk food and soda marketing in schools.
Are these efforts enough to turn the tide? Offering healthy foods and promoting physical activity at school may not be enough to negate the impact of other unhealthy influences in students’ homes and neighborhoods, according to Tracy Richmond, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.
Richmond recently published a study in PLOS One that looked at how a school’s physical activity or nutrition resources might influence fifth grade students’ body mass index (BMI).
The study focused on 4,387 students in Birmingham, Ala., Los Angeles and Houston. “We wanted to find out if certain schools look ‘heavier’ because of their composition—meaning that kids at higher risk of obesity, like African American girls or Hispanic boys, cluster within certain schools—or whether something structural in the school influences BMI, like the facilities or programs offered,” explains Richmond. …
A growing number of health care professionals are looking at their patients not just as individuals with unique concerns but also as members of larger groups with common problems and needs. This broader, population-based framework could lead to better health outcomes for more people, according to Jonathan Finkelstein, MD, MPH of Boston Children’s Hospital.
“The health care system is changing from one that’s more reactive to illness—you come see the doctor when you’re not well—to one that’s more responsible for the promotion of health for defined groups of people,” he explains. While individual patients will always be treated as, well, individuals, the concept of population health can help providers “figure out the most appropriate services within a set of limited resources for specific groups.” …
If you’re sitting at home with a sore throat, your answers to those two questions could be enough to tell whether you should see a doctor for a strep test, thanks to a new risk measure created by Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, and Andrew Fine, MD, MPH, at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Called a “home score,” the measure combines the two questions above, your age, and data on the level of strep activity in your geographic area. The basic idea is that your symptoms, plus the big picture of what’s happening in your neighborhood, is a strong enough predictor to for you to go to the doctor for a throat swab.
Thought it’s just a research tool for now, if it were it were packaged into an app and fed the right data (localized strep test results from a health center or medical testing company, for example), the home score could allow someone with a sore throat to make an informed decision about whether they should consider going to the doctor.
My first reaction was: Cool! I don’t want youth to smoke. We all know the health problems it causes. It’s good to know that we can make a difference.
My second reaction, as I thought about it more, was: Duh. Of course we can make a difference. We primary care pediatricians are perfectly positioned to influence the health behaviors of youth. We have relationships with them and their parents. We see them regularly, we have the opportunity to build trust and to get to know and understand them. We talk to them about all aspects of their health and well-being. While they don’t always listen to us, there’s always the chance they will.
And then, as I thought about it even more, my reaction was: Is anyone going to help us do it? …
We humans are sharing creatures. We talk about ourselves, what we think, what we know. If we weren’t like this, cocktail parties would be really boring, and Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t exist.
Nor would health care. At the most basic level, health care relies on give-and-take between patients and doctors—patients sharing their symptoms and concerns with doctors, and doctors sharing their knowledge with patients.
The same holds true for public health. Prevention and control efforts require lots of patients and doctors to share information so that public health agencies know where to target their resources.
But the give-and-take in public health is often slow and cannot always detect conditions or complications at rates that reflect reality. And usually it’s one-way—from the patient or public to surveyors. …
In his essay, “We, the Web Kids,” Polish poet and pundit Piotr Czerski writes: “We don’t use the Internet…we live on the Internet and along it…communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.”
As Czerski emphasizes, we want the option of “here and now, without waiting for the file to download.” We (myself included) expect immediacy. So in my role as a public health advocate in the digital age, waiting for an official infectious disease outbreak report to come weeks after the outbreak started—as often happens with traditional reporting methods—is unacceptable. Earlier detection of disease outbreaks means earlier response—and more lives saved. This video produced by NPR illustrates the “web kid” mindset when it comes to public health:
It was after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that mobile-friendly social media services like Twitter and Ushahidi came into their own as disaster management and relief tools. With the nation’s already unsteady infrastructure destroyed, these tools helped speed the deployment of people and supplies to where they were needed by giving relief workers on-the-ground intelligence about what was happening, what was needed and where in nearly real time.