A new iPhone application, which enables users to track and report outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as H1N1 (swine flu), on the ground in real time has been introduced by Apple.
The application called 'Outbreaks Near Me' has been created by researchers at Children's Hospital Boston in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab.
It uses the HealthMap technology, an online resource that collects, filters, maps and disseminates information about emerging infectious diseases, and provides a new, contextualised view of a user's specific location.
Via HealthMap, the new application pinpoints outbreaks that have been reported in the vicinity of the user, and offers the opportunity to search for additional outbreak information by location or disease.
'Outbreaks Near Me' has another additional functionality-the ability to set alerts that will notify a user on their device or by e-mail when new outbreaks are reported in their proximity, or if a user enters a new area of activity.
"We hope individuals will find the new app to be a useful source of outbreak information - locally, nationally, and globally," said HealthMap co-founder Dr. John Brownstein.
He added: "As people are equipped with more knowledge and awareness of infectious disease, the hope is that they will become more involved and proactive about public health."he new application also features an option for users to submit an outbreak report.
This feature would enable individuals in cities and countries around the world to interact with the HealthMap team and participate in the public health surveillance process.
In fact, users can also click photos - of situations and scenarios of, and/or leading to, disease - with their iPhone and submit them to the HealthMap system for review and eventual posting as an alert on the worldwide map.
"This is grassroots, participatory epidemiology. In releasing this app we aim to empower citizens in the cause of public health, not only by providing ready access to real-time information, but also by encouraging them to contribute their own knowledge, expertise, and observations. In enabling participation in surveillance, we also expect to increase global coverage and identify outbreaks earlier," said HealthMap co-founder Clark Freifeld.