How cloud computing is being used to track infectious diseases

September 12, 2014

Cloud computing and data mining are proving to be potent weapons in the battle against infectious diseases.

Over the past 10 years, numerous scares regarding infectious and potentially fatal diseases have gripped the world with the fear that it may get out of control. The recent Ebola outbreaks come to mind, as does the avian flu and swine flu in recent years. Even today, malaria remains a constant threat in many parts of the developing world. How do epidemiologists locate and track these outbreaks so that they, in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, can contain and treat patients with these debilitating conditions?

Cloud computing takes on malaria
Infection Control Today reported that UC San Francisco is working to build a platform that enables health professionals in every corner of the world to access data that will help them predict what locations are at risk for a malaria outbreak. The platform would allow workers to access data on Google Earth Engine, a tool that brings together the world's satellite imagery. Health workers would be able to access trillions of data points, giving them the ability to detect changes on the earth's surface.

Local workers can then upload data regarding incidences of malaria within their region. From here, they can combine their data with the Google Earth data on weather and geographic patterns in order to detect where the disease can strike next. 

Given the lack of resources most health workers face, this development has bolstered their ability to make the most of their limited resources. By being able to predict the exact areas at risk for an outbreak, health workers can distribute the necessary resources to prevent infection – bed nets, insecticide, and vaccinations. 

Healthcare associated infections
The latest strain of Ebola infections have led to a renewed interest in preventing the spreading of healthcare associated infections (HAIs). HAIs are infections caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses, and fungi while in the process of receiving medical care. 

While healthcare professionals have always had an arsenal of tools designed to fight HAIs, Healthcare IT News stated that data mining through the cloud has given them an extra advantage in their efforts. The process is similar to what health workers are using to fight malaria outbreaks – workers can upload local data regarding incidences of HAIs into the cloud, and use the wealth of data uploaded from healthcare facilities everywhere to ascertain the direction and severity of the outbreak. 

As always, resources are expensive and limited. The cloud allows health workers everywhere to make the most of them.