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HealthMap

Dr. John Brownstein

Dr. John Brownstein's "HealthMap" can map and track infectious diseases across the U.S. and around the world.
Photo courtesy of NLM

NLM Grantee's "HealthMap" Helps Uncover Measles Vaccination Gap

Inadequate vaccine coverage is likely a driving force behind the ongoing Disneyland measles outbreak, according to calculations by a research team at Boston Children's Hospital, using a recently developed "HealthMap" mapping and tracking resource.

Dr. John Brownstein, the principal investigator on a National Library of Medicine (NLM) grant, collaborated with the Web Communications Division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to implement HealthMap.

"…The way to stop this and future measles outbreaks is through vaccination."

The research indicates that vaccine coverage among the exposed populations is far below that necessary to keep the virus in check, and is the first to positively link measles vaccination rates and the ongoing outbreak.

The HealthMap team has released an interactive model illustrating how differing rates of vaccine coverage could affect the growth of a measles outbreak over time. The model, available at healthmap.org/measlesoutbreak, puts the effects of vaccination into stark relief. If a population is fully vaccinated against the virus, the model predicts that one case of measles will give rise to only two additional cases over 70 days. By contrast, if only 60 percent of a population is vaccinated, more than 2,800 cases will occur over the same time period.

"Our data tell us a very straightforward story—that the way to stop this and future measles outbreaks is through vaccination," says Brownstein, a digital epidemiologist and co-founder of HealthMap and VaccineFinder, an online service that allows users to search for locations offering a variety of vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine that protects against measles. "The fundamental reason why we're seeing the number of cases we are is inadequate vaccine coverage among the exposed.

"We hope these data encourage families to ensure they and their loved ones are vaccinated and help local public health officials in their efforts to control this outbreak," he adds.

The researchers were led by Maimuna Majumder, M.P.H., and Brownstein, Ph.D., of Boston Children's Informatics Program. Their report was published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

"HealthMap can also bring together outbreak data from informal sources, such as social media, with formal sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," says Valerie Florance, Ph.D., associate director for Extramural Programs at the National Library of Medicine. "This provides public health officials at the state and local levels with 'early warning' data they can use to plan prevention strategies. Public health surveillance is an important part of prevention."

More on NLM grants program: www.nlm.nih.gov/ep/Grants.html.

Spring 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 1 Page 23