Scientists using smart phone technology to track airborne infections


SCIENTISTS are using smart phone technology to track and predict the spread of infectious diseases.

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have been working with Imperial College London with the aim of figuring out how quickly a pandemic might occur.

They are using geo information available in handheld devices like smart phones to record the nature and frequency of interactions between individuals in a bid to understand how infections can spread.

Since global positioning systems (GPS) were launched in 1978 – through wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile phone network assisted GPS – the accuracy of real-time location tracking has increased to better than 10 metres and beyond.

Location tracking systems are already being used to keep tabs on at-risk patients, who need constant monitoring to protect their safety and to monitor the whereabouts of employees working in extreme or dangerous environments.

Professor Bill Buchanan, from the Institute of Informatics and Digital Innovation at Edinburgh Napier University said: “The experiments show that the technology gives location readings that are sufficiently accurate to monitor the movement and of individuals and their contact with others.

“This will provide important clues about how quickly a pandemic might occur.

“Such a system would allow emergency health providers to prioritise who may have come into contact with an individual exposed to a serious airborne illness, such as influenza during an outbreak.

“Another application might be to trace the source of an infection in a close environment, such as a hospital.”

The team has developed software to record and playback location data.

While the spread of sexually transmitted infections have been easier to track through tracing partners, studying the route an airborne infection might take has been almost impossible in the past.