Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sickweather Uses Social Networks to Track Illnesses

It's no secret that viruses, colds and stomach bugs spread like wildfire in the early fall; a co-worker could come in with a cold one day, and the next day the entire office is coughing and sneezing. Or maybe all your Facebook friends are posting about the same sore throat that just won't go away. It would be great to know about these trends before you're the one getting sick, and one Baltimore-based start-up is actually doing it: channeling information from Facebook, Twitter, and other social network sites to predict what illnesses are going around in your area.

Sickweather uses an algorithm to sort through publicly available information on social networks, and cross-references it with geographic data to provide "weather maps" of reported symptoms. Its web site promises to alert users of when the next stomach bug will be passing through town or what neighborhoods are more notorious for chronic illness, based on what users are posting about the sneezes or sniffles they have. 

Although the site is still in beta mode, it got me thinking about all the possibilities for pharma - this is the type of thing that could translate really well into a mobile app, or maybe allergy sufferers could use it to check pollen and dust levels in their town on a daily basis. It also has implications for people who travel frequently and want to see what illnesses are popping up in their chosen destination. The site also lets people keep track of their own health and that of their friends and family, meaning it has implications for caregivers too. 

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