Google Takes On Bird Flu
The world’s largest Internet search company has joined the defenses arranged against bird flu. In combination with Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, Google Earth is helping to locate commercial poultry flocks, as well as the buildings, schools, and roads close to the farms and production facilities.
Sherrill Davison, a professor of avian medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, remarked on the technology. “Twenty years ago we had to drive around the countryside and find the chicken farm that reported a disease, but now everything is on a mapping system. Now, we can very quickly, within about an hour, know exactly how many farms are in an (affected) area,” she said.
This could help contain the virus, or at least give authorities a good idea of how it spreads. Davison has been using GIS technology since 1998 to monitor and control outbreaks of other avian diseases. Originally it was only utilized in Pennsylvania, but other states adopted the system. Google Earth is only a recently added component.
“We began using Google Earth to help us locate poultry farms more exactly. In the past we knew the chicken house was on a parcel of land but now we can zoom in and tell exactly where on the property it is . . . It is another tool to add into our rapid response program,” Davison said.
The H5N1 virus has caused over 120 human deaths thus far, and has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa. As birds migrate from Asia to Alaska (and then southwards) this summer, the virus is expected to reach North America.
Google is trying to keep us all safe from the bird flu. Maybe the branching Internet search company should try its hand at healthcare.