IBM uses Big Data to combat deadly infectious diseases

malariaAt this time of the year, you often see missives in which technology companies make predictions with regard to the spread of influenza. Google can measure this based on search queries for drugs, while Twitter and Facebook can monitor this based on snotty tweets and “I feel knackered” updates.

The team at IBM wanted to use its knowledge of Big Data and analytics to combat diseases. In collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California in San Francisco, IBM focuses on deadly viruses such as dengue (breakbone fever) and malaria rather than the flu. The researchers do not only want to know how the spread of these diseases has taken place, but also, and more in particular, analyze in real time which factors are at play. For this purpose, it includes various factors, such as changes in precipitation and temperature as well as traffic streams for cars and airplanes. After all, for the majority of earthlings the world is no longer flat, so to speak.

To quickly and easily add new data sources, IBM has developed an open source application for data modeling: STEM (Spatio Temporal Epidemiological Modeler). This is particularly interesting in the United States, as electronic patient files are increasingly becoming available there and these can be quickly linked in this way. This also applies to patients who have contracted dengue. Among others by climate changes, this infectious disease is becoming increasingly common in the United States (and more than 100 countries across the world).

Things are a bit more complex when it comes to malaria. In the countries that suffer most from this disease, less real-time data is available, and certainly no electronic patient records. Nevertheless, the researchers feel the data from the World Health Organization will allow them to predict where new outbreaks of malaria will take place. They hope this will help them contribute towards a solution for this terrible disease.