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Thursday
Oct112012

Harvard Researchers Use Cell Phones for Tracking Malaria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- There’s a new weapon in the war against malaria -- the cell phone.

Harvard researchers found they could track the spread of malaria in Kenya using phone calls and text messages from 15 million mobile phones.

“Before mobile phones, we had proxies for human travel, like road networks, census data and small-scale GPS studies,” said study author Caroline Buckee, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “But now that mobile phones have spread throughout the world, we can start using these massive amounts of data to quantify human movements on a larger scale and couple this data with knowledge of infection risk.”

Buckee and colleagues used mobile phone records from June 2008 and June 2009 to track the timing and origin of calls and texts among 15 million Kenyan mobile phone subscribers. They then compared the volume of subscribers in a particular region to that region’s known malaria prevalence.  By studying networks of human and parasite movement, the team could then determine primary sources of malaria and who was most likely to become infected.

The results, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggest that malaria transmission within Kenya is dominated by travel from Lake Victoria on the country’s western edge to the more central capital city of Nairobi.  And human carriers of the malaria parasite, who may not show symptoms, far outpace the flying limits of mosquitoes in endemic regions.

“How travelers acquire malaria elsewhere and bring it home has been mostly surmised from expert knowledge and judgment,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “Here we’ve used this unrelated cell phone technology.”

With 89 percent of the estimated 1 million annual malaria deaths occurring in Africa, the Harvard findings may help researchers better understand how human travel patterns can spread disease and potentially lead to improved public health efforts to curb the mosquito-borne infection.

“I think it is so neat and extraordinarily imaginative,” said Schaffner. “It has me bouncing up and down in my chair with excitement.”

Buckee anticipates that mobile technology could change approaches to malaria control. Long-employed anti-malaria strategies, such as the use of insecticides, bed nets, medications and mosquito-habitat removal, could be augmented by warning texts sent to travelers en route to and from malaria hot spots.

“I suspect that some people will get antsy about big brother following you,” Schaffner said, alluding to the privacy concerns that accompany mobile technology. “I’m more excited about the possibilities to prevent serious disease.”

Buckee said efforts to eradicate malaria in sub-Saharan countries, including Kenya, has been challenged by tight budgets.

“They can’t screen and treat everyone,” she said. “[Mobile phones] could be really powerful tools for targeting resources with very practical applications.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug252011

Hurricane Preparedness Tips and Resources

Ron Garan/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- Hurricane Irene is barreling down on the U.S., a monster storm packing winds of more than 100 miles per hour as it batters the Bahamas. In the next few days, the storm could hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or even the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. If you find yourself in Irene's path, experts say not to wait until the last minute. Now is the time to make preparations to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Here are some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • Be aware of the latest weather forecast.
  • Make a plan for your family, business and property.
  • Get a disaster preparedness kit stocked with critical supplies, including important documents and medications.
  • Get flood insurance.

Read more of FEMA's advice for securing your family and valued possessions.

The National Weather Service suggests you have a plan for your beloved family pets, and determine safe areas inside your home, as well as escape routes if flooding turns dangerous.

Track the Storm:  Your smartphone could be your most valuable tool during or after a hurricane, with dozens of apps available to provide crucial information.

Here's a list of some of the available apps. Click on the links for download information.

  • Hurricane HD: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch. $3.99 – Hurricane HD lets you track storms, with moving radar and satellite imagery from the National Hurricane center. It provides tropical bulletins, forecasts, and advisories for the Atlantic and Pacific Basins. You can watch video updates for storms currently underway or forming, and find data on major storms of the past, such as hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Katrina.
  • The Weather Channel: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, Android. Free – The Weather Channel has fully customizable weather maps, animated radar maps, detailed weather conditions and forecasts, severe weather alerts, and a notification bar with the current temperature and severe weather alert indicator. It allows you to get weather forecasts for your location or search by city, ZIP code, street address or landmark. The app also includes interactive maps that are fully customizable and feature the functionality of Google Maps. Customers can decide to display layers such as radar, clouds, UV index, rainfall and more.
  • Global Alert Network: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android BlackBerry. Free – The Global Alert Network delivers hands-free national traffic and weather alerts. See iTunes for Apple devices, or go to BlackBerry for a download. The Global Alert Network is a location-aware network platform that automatically broadcasts audible hands-free alerts to mobile devices. You choose to subscribe to weather or traffic alerts, which are geo-targeted to your location.


Other Resources
Click HERE for a list of useful storm preparedness resources and websites.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio