The Flu Fighters

Its important that we understand how people catch diseases as then we can stop them getting ill in the first place. A Victorian doctor called John Snow was one of the first to realise this. He worked out that cholera spread in contaminated water by plotting the locations of ill people on a map during an outbreak. He realised the problem was a public water pump. Today’s scientists are using our love of smart phones to do something similar.

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone, so researchers in the UK and Japan asked people to install an app on their phones. It counted the number of phones around them, and used this to estimate the number of people they came into contact with over a day, and where they went. They could also use it to report if they were feeling ill.

This information was sent back to the researchers, who used it to find patterns in the number of people a person is likely to come into contact with in different places, and how this can lead to the spread of infections. They used this to learn about how epidemics grow (where a disease spreads between lots of people) and can eventually become pandemics (a very large epidemic, affecting people in lots of different countries.)

Tell the doctor… smart phones can map how diseases will spread


Robot doctor

More medical marvels →

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