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Tracking outbreaks online

by Tripp Underwood on June 6, 2011

flickr/warrentedarrest

Are you looking to read reviews about the new Greek restaurant that opened up down the street? Google it. In an argument about who drove in the final runs in the Red Sox’s 2004 world series run? Google is right there to let you know it was Trot Nixon. While most of us use Google for seemingly trivial purposes, (I know Sox fans, ’04 was anything BUT trivial in your eyes) researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston are using the powerful search engine to fight disease.

John Brownstein, PhD

A team from the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP), led by John Brownstein, PhD, put their heads together with people from Google and found that web-based search data is a great info sharing source for citizens and public health officials alike. With this in mind, the team recently turned their attention towards tracking outbreaks of dengue, a mosquito-borne virus affecting 500 million people living in tropical parts of the globe. To help accurately record dengue outbreaks as they occur, CHIP and Google have created an online tool called Denguetrends, which collects information on dengue activity as it occurs in real time. The advantage of this type of data aggregation is that it warns people when dengue is being reported in their area and gives public health officials the chance to immediately respond to outbreaks as they happen, instead of waiting for data to be collected and processed. Its creators hope the tool will lead to faster response times and more efficient management of dengue outbreaks.

“By using search data, we’re tapping into a freely-available, instant dataset that can be gathered, analyzed and released much more quickly and at much lower effort and cost than through traditional national surveillance and reporting programs,” said Brownstein, director of the Computational Epidemiology Group in CHIP. “The kind of information the tool provides can help direct public health officials target interventions aimed at mosquito control and disease prevention, such as education campaigns, as early as possible.” Full story »

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This week on Thrive: Feb. 15 – 19

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on February 21, 2010

Here’s a quick look at what Thrive was up to last week.

School life for children after cancer takes a toll. Children’s Nelson Aquino, CRNA, reflects on his life-altering experience in Haiti. There are ways to confront bullying and cyberbullying head-on. Children’s injury prevention expert offers fire safety tips for your family. Learn how to make snacking a healthy time for your child. Are infants who swim more likely to get asthma? Girls’ soccer injuries are preventable. What are parents’ legal responsibilities when it comes to sexting? Is there such a thing as Internet overload for your child’s brain?

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Internet overload: Are we spending too much time online?

by Melissa Jeltsen on February 19, 2010

We’re all familiar with the myriad benefits of the Internet, a tool which has undeniably changed the way we communicate, learn and use entertainment. But how much of a good thing is too much? For a small fraction of kids, the Internet’s draw may prove too enticing, as Internet addiction (loosely defined as excessive use of the Internet that negatively impacts academic, social and family life) appears to be on the rise in much of the industrialized world.

We spoke to a neurologist specializing in the teen brain, media expert Michael Rich and a psychologist for this article about Internet addiction and its possible effects. Read on to find out what you need to know about your child’s Internet use–and how you can help them manage their screen time effectively.

That’s important to do, as a national survey recently found that the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically: Today, 8 to 18 year olds spend an average of almost eight hours a day using digital media. And because they are often “media-multitasking” (like instant messaging on the computer while watching TV and texting friends on their cellphones) they actually manage to cram a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those eight hours.

So, is it bad for kids and adults alike to spend so much time using digital media? The answer isn’t straightforward, as the article makes clear, and much more research needs to be done. A Frontline documentary also probes the question.

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