Health and medicine

How smart thermometers can track and prevent Zika

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One of the nobler applications of technology is that of fighting disease. IBM and many other technology companies have a long history of dedicating resources to fight the spread of diseases and improve global health. Currently, a key focus for us is tracking and limiting the spread of the Zika virus.

IBM recently announced that it is committing resources, technology and expertise to help in the fight against the Zika virus. We’re providing technology and talent to Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a research institution affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Health and one the most prominent science and technology health institutions in Latin America. Fiocruz plans to track the spread of Zika by using IBM technology to analyze clues ranging from anecdotal observations recorded by the general public on social media, to official data about human travel patterns and weather data – an amazing example of how the Internet of Things is being leveraged for the greater good.

Modeling and visualizing the spread of infectious diseases

Researchers from IBM research laboratories will train Fiocruz scientists to use STEM (Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler), software that models and visualizes the spread of infectious diseases. STEM can help public health officials and epidemiologists analyze the effects of responses that take into account factors like geography, weather, the passage of time, human travel patterns, roadways, and airports. The STEM modeling platform, developed by IBM and donated to the Eclipse Foundation, has been used to study and help predict the spread of infectious diseases like influenza and Ebola, and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

Atmospheric conditions and human behaviour patterns and the spread of the Zika virus

We’re using big data analytics software capabilities to help in the areas of weather pattern analysis, human travel movements and social media commentary to determine how atmospheric conditions and human behavior patterns may be spreading the Zika virus. Leveraging the Internet of Things to source different live real-time data sets such as daily rainfall, temperatures and travel routes, all of which require sensors in these remote locations to gather data. An emerging new technology that will also help combat Zika is smart thermometers that feed real-time data into a global medical system. One of the early symptoms of the disease is fever and tracking global upswings in fever can give a clue into geographical region that need to be on the watch for Zika. Aggregating these different data sets allows us to see a picture of the situation on the ground and gain the upper hand.

There are many underlying technologies that are being pulled together to help global tracking and prevention of Zika, and it is all made possible by IoT data that is being shared with global organizations to provide real-time data that can be quickly acted on to help prevent Zika from becoming a larger issue. It’s fascinating to see technology leveraged in this way and exciting to contemplate how the IoT will allow us to further improve global health as it becomes more sophisticated and ubiquitous.

For a broader look at how IoT will transform healthcare, check out Bill Chamberlin’s blog on 18 IoT healthcare trends to watch in 2016. Number 4 (extracting insights from all the data) is certainly a reality with how we’re using IoT data to track Zika, and you’ll find many others that quickly bring to mind examples of how the Internet of Things is improving healthcare and global health

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