HealthMap: hunting for global outbreaks and learning about microbiology

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Sandra Porter
HealthMap is a great site that could be an excellent resource when teaching a biology, microbiology, or health class. Not to mention, I can picture people using it before they travel somewhere or even just for fun. I learned about HealthMap awhile ago from Mike the Mad Biologist, but I didn't get time to play with the site until today. Here's an example to see how it works. How do I use HealthMap? i-e48f67f28cc67bfbf49bd0fd362c7f20-none.gif I begin using HealthMap by changing the number of diseases selected to "none." Then I scrolled through the list until I found something interesting. I chose "Poisoning." The number of reports is shown in parenthesis after each disease and the sources of the feeds are shown in the top right-hand box. After I selected "Poisoning," I could see markers indicating poisoning reports appear on the map. This map shows the reports of poisoning cases in China between Sept. 1st and today.
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I did notice that this list of diseases or health conditions isn't well organized. I think it would be helpful if there were a search function or at the very least, the diseases (or health issues) were listed in alphabetical order. But still, if you're persistent, you can find interesting things. I had to laugh, though, at the disease described as "algae." This one turns out to be red tide, but I had a very funny picture of someone turning green because algae were growing in their skin or on their eyeballs. Once you've selected your disease, you should see markers on the map wherever the disease or problem like poisoning, has been reported. The colors range from red for lots of reports, to yellow for a few reports. If you click a marker, you get more detailed information. You can also change the dates below the map. Moving around the map is accomplished by dragging the image with your mouse - like you would with Google maps. Unlike Google maps, though, you have to select a link to zoom in on a certain country or zoom out to show a map of the whole world.
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These links take you to detailed reports and stories about the cases. One last point of interest at this site might be missed if you don't scroll down to the bottom. This information concerns reports of the latest health alerts located in the bottom left hand corner. Unfortunately, many of these reports aren't in English, making them a bit less accessible to many U.S. students. Still, I think this could be a great starting point for individual research projects. It's easy to see an instructor telling students to go find some kind of disease or health condition happening around the world and research what's going on.

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