University of Arizona launches mobile app to track Zika

In response to the Zika outbreak, University of Arizona’s College of Public health researchers and the UA Bio Computing Facility have released a crowd-sourcing mobile app to track the disease and help detect outbreaks.

The community-based disease detection system, Kidenga, allows public health investigators to both track mosquito-populations within a community and identify those experiencing Zika symptoms. According to researchers, the app also provides users with confirm-cases, educational materials and real-time mosquito activity.

Researchers are reaching out to U.S. citizens to help collect data on Aedes aegypti, the mosquitos that transmit the disease.

“If enough people use the app, it may be able to detect ZIP codes that appear to have an uptick of suspicious symptoms,” Kacey Ernst, infectious disease epidemiologist, College of Public Health, said in a statement. “This early alert is critical to reduce or prevent further spread of the virus.”

The goal is to provide communities with educational information, along with up-to-date Zika information, she added.

Kidenga will ask users to report mosquito activity and symptoms in their community, on a weekly basis. Users can also access aggregated data from other users’ reports. Researchers explained, Arizona, Florida and Texas users will have access to confirmed Zika, dengue and chikungunya data by county, as mosquito season lasts from June until October.

In the future, researchers hope to expand the focus to other states, with attention to areas with higher-risk of infections.

Public health officials are struggling to reduce the risk of transmission by controlling mosquitos that transmit these diseases, Ernst said. Traditional surveillance relies heavily upon routine tracking of those who seek care, get tested and are reported to the health department.

“Very few health-surveillance, citizen-science apps focus on managing the contributed data, extracting value and providing verified information back to participants,” Nirav Merchant, director, UA Bio Computing Facility said in a statement. “Kidenga has a nice balance that allows researchers and participants to help each other, making good use of mobile technology.”