Near the end of the first week of January, news of a deadly flu outbreak in Wuhan, China started coming to mainstream media. The disease that started out from Wuhan has now spread to mainland China and to other parts of the world with confirmed cases in the US & potential threats in United Kingdom and other countries.
Within a few days, various cases of pneumonia have been reported in Wuhan and most of them are from those vendors who are exposed to the living animals at the Huanan Seafood Market.
The WHO informed of a flu-like outbreak in China on January 9, 2020. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had gotten the word out a few days earlier, on January 6. But a Canadian health monitoring platform had beaten them both to the punch, sending word of the outbreak to its customers on December 31.
The name of this Canadian health monitoring platform is BlueDot, the BlueDot started notifying its customers of an impending outbreak of the virus as early as the of 2019 December month.
BlueDot works on an AI-driven algorithm to search animal or plant disease networks, foreign-language news reports, and official statements to provide advance warnings to its clients about danger zones.
The Canadian firm specializes in automated infectious disease surveillance systems based on artificial intelligence that combs through news reports, animal and plant disease networks, and official proclamations and gave its clients warnings of danger zones like Wuhan ahead of the outbreak.
With access to global airline ticketing data, the firm correctly predicted the spread of the virus from Wuhan to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo in the days following its initial appearance.
The BlueDot used machine learning and natural language processing techniques to prepare its model that subsequently sifts through news reports in 65 languages, airline ticketing data, and animal disease networks.
After the automated system completes its working, the results are analyzed by trained Epidemiologists who make sense of the reported data conclusions from a scientific standpoint.
Eventually, a report is generated and is sent to BlueDot’s clients.
BlueDot’s reports are then sent to public health officials in a dozen countries, airlines and frontline hospitals where infected patients might end up. BlueDot doesn’t sell their data to the general public.
For example, in one case the BlueDot successfully predicted the location of the Zika outbreak in South Florida in a publication in the British medical journal The Lancet.
BlueDot’s founder & CEO, Kamran Khan, said that speed matters a lot during an outbreak and Chinese officials have failed to convey the exact information about the fatal situations. Organizations like WHO & CDC also depend on the same officials for their health monitoring purposes so it would be better to rely on an AI.
Khan further explained his motivations for using an AI-based system at BlueDot for the purpose: “We know that governments may not be relied upon to provide information in a timely fashion. We can pick up news of possible outbreaks, little murmurs or forums or blogs of indications of some kind of unusual events going on.”
“The AI avoids using social media postings as it makes the work and conclusion very confusing. The AI collects global data of airline ticketing which shows where the infected residents are moving next. The data clearly depicted that the Coronavirus will spread from Wuhan to Bangkok, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul initially.”
To help contain the spread of the virus, China has restricted the travel of around 35 million people in 12 quarantine regions and the country is taking all other possible measures to limit the spread of this virus.
At the time of writing this article, the death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached around 80 in China. Far more have been affected, however, and the official count is as high as 2,744 confirmed cases across China. In the United States, five confirmed cases have been reported.
A few infectious disease specialists have said that the Coronavirus outbreak will not stop spreading as of now because travelers have been diagnosed with the symptoms of the infection. To restrict the virus from spreading, Chinese health officials are supposed to provide a clear picture of the outbreak.
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