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Contagion showcases infectious disease threats

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Accompanying social action campaign features HealthMap outbreak surveillance system

Boston, Mass. – Next week, the feature film “Contagion” will be released in theaters nationwide. The storyline follows the emergence of a novel virus and the ensuing pandemic’s impact on public health. In advance of the movie’s premier, Participant Media - an entertainment company partnering with Warner Bros. Pictures and Imagenation Abu Dhabi on the film - has launched a social action campaign and web site (TakePart.com/Contagion) to raise awareness about disease transmission and offer a window into the real world of pandemics. The HealthMap team at Children’s Hospital Boston is a featured associate of the campaign and is highlighted in the “Pandemic Pulse” section of the site as well as the related Facebook simulation. Pandemic Pulse is powered by the HealthMap outbreak surveillance system and offers a real-time view of emerging infectious disease threats around the world.

“The movie raises important issues and will bring attention to the threat of emerging infectious disease, the value of early detection and disease tracking systems, and precautions that can be taken by individuals to protect themselves,” said John Brownstein, PhD, director of the Computational Epidemiology Group within theInformatics Program at Children’s and co-founder of HealthMap. “Being informed and engaged in public health is of utmost importance – not just during an epidemic or pandemic, but at all times. Through HealthMap and the ‘Contagion’ social action campaign, we aim to further engage the public and empower them to participate in an ongoing public health dialogue.”

Launched in 2006, HealthMap provides real-time disease outbreak monitoring and presents information from Web-based data sources including blogs, listservs, chatrooms, online news reports and official alerts in one view. The site, which recently released a mobile version called “Outbreaks Near Me” for the iPhone and Android and incorporates user-submitted information, averages 10,000 unique visits a day and includes regular users from the World Health Organization, the CDC, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

This fall HealthMap is celebrating its fifth anniversary and has just launched a newly designed web site making it an even richer source of detailed public health alerts and news. The site is promoted on the “Contagion” social action campaign web site.  

To speak with Dr. Brownstein about the issues raised by “Contagion,” real-world infectious disease threats, how technologies such as HealthMap can supplement traditional reporting infrastructures and lead to earlier detection and management, and how members of the public can become engaged in public health surveillance, contact Keri Stedman at keri.stedman@childrens.harvard.edu or 617-919-3114.

For more information about HealthMap, visit healthmap.org or watch a brief videodetailing how it works. For more information on Participant Media’s social action campaign for “Contagion,” visit TakePart.com/Contagion.

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Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children’s Hospital Boston has been ranked as one of the nation’s best pediatric hospitals by U.S.News & World Report for the past 21 years. Children’s is the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts children. In addition to 396 pediatric and adolescent inpatient beds and 228 outpatient programs, Children’s houses the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries benefit both children and adults. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and nine members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children’s research community. For more information about the hospital visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.

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