Posts Tagged ‘Health’
Business, Society - Written Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by Catherine Thorn - 4 Comments
With over 50,000 confirmed cases of swine flu reported in North America, it is undeniable that this virus is an epidemic. Similar to the SARS scare that occurred a few years ago, this virus has generated discussion about the possibilities of drug resistant strains and widespread sickness. Although the swine flu virus has not yet mutated and remains non-lethal in the majority of cases, it is apparent that in the case of a more serious virus, we would be ill equipped to fight it.
The main problem is that people who contract such viruses are contagious before their symptoms become visible, making it extremely difficult to determine that a person has caught the virus before they transmit it to others. The Japanese government has recognized this issue as one of the main challenges in fighting potential pandemic and has planned an experiment to see if Japan’s advanced internet and cellular phone infrastructure can be used to help address the issue. As elementary schools are one of the main breeding grounds for contagious illness, the experiment will begin by giving each of the students at a particular elementary school a GPS-enabled cell phone and ‘infecting’ a few children with a fictitious virus. The students’ movements will then be tracked, and the parents of any children that have come in contact with infected students will be advised to take their child to a doctor so that students that do contract the virus can be diagnosed much faster, thus preventing them from spreading the virus any further. Due to the exponential nature in which viruses spread, even a small decrease in the amount of people infected by each carrier of the virus will have a major impact.
Although using GPS to track interactions can only inform people of possible infection and cannot predict the actual spreading of the virus, this strategy has the potential to be effective in slowing the spread of highly contagious viruses that warrant such extreme action. Equipped with the information that they have been exposed to such a virus, people can check with their doctors to ensure that if they have contracted the virus, they will be treated and not spread it further. Whether the health system could handle an influx of checkups in such a situation is a concern, but it is certainly better than dealing with a full-blown outbreak.
Despite the potential that this experiment has to lead to a strategy that could drastically reduce the spreading of an epidemic, the idea that the government could track people’s locations has caused great concern and cries of “Big Brother”. Privacy is a concern that many have when it comes to the internet, but most often, the discussions of privacy revolve around the danger of predators and the concern that corporations are gaining too much personal information about consumers. When it comes to fighting a serious epidemic though, the consequences of inaction are much greater and location information could be the best defence we have.
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