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Digital Epidemiology

  Aug 08, 2020

Digital Epidemiology

Q. What is digital epidemiology?

A.  Digital epidemiology is the use of data generated outside the public health system for disease surveillance. A new paper has highlighted how several countries have taken digital epidemiology to the next level in responding to COVID-19 in areas such as case detection, contact tracing and isolation.

The field is new, but has been growing rapidly owing to increasing amounts of data generated on the internet, particularly on social media

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, contact tracing apps have emerged as the best examples of digital epidemiology, a nascent field where digital data is used to understand patterns of disease, and chart out interventions to prevent it.

Q. What is the story so far?

A. Aarogya Setu, the Indian government’s COVID-19 contract tracing mobile application, is being used by over 13 crore people. The app tracks the interaction of its users through Bluetooth and a location-generated social graph. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, other app users who may have been in his/her close proximity, knowingly or unknowingly, are alerted and guided on self-isolation and steps to be taken if they develop symptoms. While government employees have been asked to use the app, it was also made mandatory for rail and air travelers.

Q. What has led to the growth of digital epidemiology?

A. The traditional form of epidemiology, considered a basis of public health, consists of studying various factors (age, gender, location and other determinants) of the general population to study disease patterns, spread, incidence, and prevalence. Traditional epidemiologists say it is a field founded on the pillars of science and is thus extremely robust. Data is mostly collected by field staff through house-to-house surveys and from hospital records. Digital epidemiology, as the term suggests, uses digital data to study the same factors.

Q. What are few examples of digital epidemiology?

A. Twitter data mining has been one of the best uses of digital epidemiology in his view. Also, systems like Health map are good examples. In 2020, the digital contact tracing apps will certainly become the best examples of digital epidemiology.

Google Flu Trends as one of the early examples of digital epidemiology, wherein researchers from Google and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a method to estimate flu activity by region using search engine queries.

Q. What are its advantages?

A. Digital epidemiology has an important role to play in preventing disease outbreaks. One of the big advantages of digital speed is it is fast and will be a key contributor in keeping outbreaks under control.

Q. What are the privacy issues involved?

A. Data privacy is an element of huge concern. COVID-19 trackers like Aarogya Setu, which collect contact network information and location information, can be privacy-intrusive