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Ebola Hits U.S. Shores… Tech to the Rescue?

In our increasingly connected society, we generate a ridiculous amount of digital data.

And there’s absolutely zero doubt that the flood of data will continue to escalate.

In fact, with a compound annual growth rate of 46% between 2015 and 2020, Big Data will be a $190-billion market by the end of this decade, according to Research and Markets.

Now, the Big Data industry is usually charged with organizing, storing, analyzing, and protecting our information so companies can learn (and profit) from our behaviors.

But Big Data faces its toughest challenge yet – saving us from the devastating Ebola outbreak…

Ripped From Hollywood

Cast your mind back to the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003 and swine flu outbreak in 2009.

What you might not know is that Big Data and technology helped to stop the spread of the diseases. How?

Through the use of thermal imaging cameras, or “scanners,” that are present inside airports across the world – including Hong Kong, Incheon Airport in South Korea, and Changi Airport in Singapore.

It’s similar to the movie, Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger…

Predator screen shot: thermal imaging

The goal?

To prevent a global pandemic by spotting carriers of the diseases before they board a plane.

The Ebola “Heat Map”

These cameras mimic the night vision of Schwarzenegger’s creepy tree-dwelling stalker. In other words, they seek out humans with elevated body temperatures, in hopes of spotting people with a fever-based disease.

More specifically, the electro-optic technology inside the cameras is highly sensitive and can measure temperatures down to a fraction of a degree.

Applied to today’s Ebola crisis, the cameras are looking to detect passengers with temperatures higher than 38.6° Celsius, or 101.5° Fahrenheit – a telltale sign of a potential Ebola victim.

There’s just one problem, though…

Carriers of the Ebola virus can go as many as 21 days without showing visible symptoms.

I’m sure you can work out the conclusion here…

Victims can breeze onto a plane easily if their symptoms haven’t yet manifested themselves. Since thermal-imaging scanners can only detect passengers with fevers (a symptom of Ebola), they’ll miss any carriers that have the virus, but haven’t yet broken into a fever.

Hence the Ebola victims who managed to make it to Dallas and Washington, D.C. over the past week.

The good news is, Ebola carriers aren’t contagious until they start showing symptoms, so even if they board a plane as a carrier (showing no symptoms), other passengers aren’t at risk of contracting the virus.

Essentially, though, thermal imaging doesn’t get to the root cause of Ebola. It doesn’t cure it, either. The technology merely spots the symptoms, and tries to calm the masses, and prevent widespread panic.

So does any modern technology offer viable solutions for preventing an outbreak?

Yep…

How Big Data Can Stop Ebola in Its Tracks

One example is HealthMap.

HealthMap is essentially a Google-like search engine for tracking diseases and finding out what symptoms to look for.

It’s an open-source data project that works like Google (GOOGL). However, instead of just giving people search engine results, it shows the most recent cases and locations where a specific disease occurred, along with all the conversations taking place about various diseases in real time.

Like social media sites do, HealthMap pulls that data from sources across the internet – such as breaking news, expert advice, and blogs. Have a look…

HealthMap from healthmap on Vimeo.

As you can see, this isn’t just a platform that benefits healthcare researchers. It also helps regular folks like you and I track where a disease began, where it’s emerging, and where it’s heading next.

You can visit HealthMap’s website here.

Ultimately, Big Data can’t solve the increasingly worrying Ebola crisis by itself. After all, it’s not a magical serum.

But it is an extremely powerful tool in helping to prevent wider outbreaks and providing critical information.

Your eyes in the Pipeline,

Marty Biancuzzo

Marty Biancuzzo

, Technology Analyst

View More By Marty Biancuzzo