The Data on Ebola and Beyond: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Oct 30, 2014 in Community Support

As the United States fights to contain the spread of the global Ebola outbreak, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention—the country’s national public health institute—is in the news, with data stories front and center. The federal agency collects and relies on data across a host of categories to draw conclusions and make decisions, and data concerning the Ebola virus is certainly no exception.

A recent BBC News story on the use of data analytics to halt the spread of Ebola highlights the ways in which the CDC is using big data to track the virus. Here, we see the application of mobile phone data to map the origin of calls to helplines and to generate detailed representations of the location and movement of potentially infected individuals. As the BBC reports, there are other sources of key big data points that contribute to a fuller understanding of the location and spread of the virus. These sources include doctor’s reports, social media chatter, retail and pharmacy transaction information, travel ticket purchases, geo-spatial tracking and more.

In their efforts to strengthen monitoring of the virus, a handful of states in the U.S. are relying on CDC data on travelers and their Ebola risk levels, with Pennsylvania recently joining New York, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia in the program. And in the hopes of helping to further fight the spread of the disease, other organizations provide Ebola tracking references to supplement CDC information. According to BetaBoston, Boston Children’s Hospital-based HealthMap, was created to send “reliable, real-time information to the public, to governments and to public health organizations, about the infectious disease outbreaks that may be near them.” HealthMap mines a superabundance of data to create visual models of the disease’s growth, and it’s available to see right here.

Of course, beyond Ebola, the CDC collects data on a wide range of subjects—from asthma and obesity to arthritis and life expectancy—as a visit to the agency’s data and statistics department is quick to show. And plenty of the time, the news coming out of the agency is good, with recent CDC data showing that Americans can expect to live longer than ever before. Data collection is constantly changing how the United States confronts public health issues, and the CDC is at the forefront of these efforts, keeping us informed in real time—and healthier in the process.