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Cellphones Reveal Emerging Disease Outbreaks

By New Scientist

October 15, 2010

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Your cellphone could be a key tool in the fight against disease by relaying a telltale signature of illness to doctors and agencies monitoring new outbreaks.

"This technology is an early warning system," says Anmol Madan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose team concluded that you can spot cases of flu by looking for changes in the movement and communication patterns of infected people.

Epidemiologists know that disease outbreaks change mobility patterns, but until now have been unable to track these patterns in any detail. So Madan and colleagues gave cellphones to 70 students in an undergraduate dormitory. The phones came with software that supplied the team with anonymous data on the students' movements, phone calls and text messages. The students also completed daily surveys on their mental and physical health.

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