Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and academics at the University of Illinois are working on applications that would allow carriers of GPS-equipped mobile handsets to receive warnings of potential disease outbreaks in their area, according to an article this morning in Technology Review.
"During an outbreak or emergency, getting good info to the public rapidly about what they need to do protect themselves is vital and can save lives," says CDC spokeswoman Jennifer Morcone. "Avoiding certain foods, avoiding certain areas, wearing a mask…all those messages are delivered through a number of channels by the CDC during outbreaks and emergencies and we know that getting information to people when they need it is vital."
Similar systems have been trialled in Hong Kong, where subscribers to operator Sunday Communications were able to get an SMS message telling them they were near a potential SARS hotspot.
As new health threats emerge, and governments realize the difficulty of managing public emergencies (think of hurricane Katrina), they will rely more and more on new mobile applications and technologies such as GPS to get information out quickly. Look for bird flu map mashups in the near future!