By Frank Moher
By guest blogger Dave Carpenter
Word of the swine flu’s global reach travels so quickly across the web, it’s enough to leave the pandemic-aspiring virus itself a little green with envy. Yet our shiny, digital message machine becomes a double-edge sword when enlisted as weaponry against the outbreak.
To wit, the Twit.
Exhibit A: The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using Twitter to post the latest official news on the swine flu, and to direct people to helpful information. This is ideal — the CDC leverages the hottest online social media site to calmly dispense up-to-date, informed advice on a legitimate world health threat to a rapidly growing base of followers.
Exhibit B (via Daniel Sung at TechdigestTV): Family man Steve Lange, super-keen to take his new Twitter account for a spin, perhaps didn’t pause to consider just what effect his contribution to the swine flu digital meme might have on the more panicky among us:
Like the virus itself, word of the swine flu’s spread comes at us in myriad mutated forms, leaving one (if that one happens to be an octogenarian) wistful for the one-way, mono-source interaction of radio days and FDR’s Fireside Chats. The pandemic has spread everywhere online, from news sites, to social media destinations, to games, to (inevitably) an iPhone app.. The latter allows you, from the comfort of your mobile wizzy woo, to track the malady’s New York carriers and their whereabouts while driving your vehicle off the interstate guardrail:
But it’s so easy to snark, rather than to provide, you know, actual help. After all, addiction to the mobile device I poke fun at led to one of our nation’s leading disease MDs lending an early, critical hand in helping Mexico diagnose the outbreak, in between shifts of his rec league hockey game (of course, eh?).
Beyond the CDC’s Twitter feed, there exist a number of legitimately informative, even brilliant tools to keep you abreast of the outbreak. Healthmap, with support and data provided by Google, the World Health Organization, and ProMED to name a few, combines a visual display of the latest incidents of swine flu across the globe with breaking news feeds for each point on the map — think Google Earth meets Google News. Healthmap also has an adjoining Twitter feed. The fearful can also fritter around with Google Trends, which tries to predict where the swine flu might strike next, based on related user searches. In Canada, stick with the staid Public Health Agency of Canada website for the most reliable advice and news from the home front; as soon as the Harper government posts the words “Remain calm,” then you know it’s time to flee for the bomb shelter. Remember to always know where your towel is.
Personally, I require but one online source to tell me everything I need to know about the swine flu. You’ll likely want to check it out yourself at http://doihavepigflu.com/