Apple iPhone owners wondering if there is a case of swine flu nearby can now find out instantly with a new program that tracks outbreaks of infectious diseases.
"Outbreaks Near Me" is an application for the popular smartphone developed by researchers at Children's Hospital Boston in collaboration with the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The application, which was developed with support from Google.org, the Web giant's philanthropic arm, enables users to track and report outbreaks of infectious diseases such as swine flu in real time.
It is available for free from Apple's iTunes App Store.
The "Outbreaks Near Me" program is associated with HealthMap, an online resource that collects, filters, maps and disseminates information about emerging infectious diseases.
Children's Hospital Boston, said in a press release, said it can pinpoint outbreaks reported in the vicinity of a user and let them search for additional information by location or disease.
Users can also set alerts to be notified on their iPhone or by e-mail when new outbreaks are reported nearby.
"We hope individuals will find the new app to be a useful source of outbreak information -- locally, nationally, and globally," said HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein, an assistant professor in the Children's Hospital Informatics Program.
"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 said.
The application also allows users to submit their own reports of outbreaks or photos to the HealthMap team.
"This is grassroots, participatory epidemiology," said HealthMap co-founder Clark Freifeld, a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab.
"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," he said.
"In enabling participation in surveillance, we also expect to increase global coverage and identify outbreaks earlier," he added.
HealthMap, founded in 2006, tracks and maps infectious disease outbreaks through news reports, personal accounts, official alerts, blogs and chat rooms.