Infectious diseases claim millions of lives every year. Although the burden is borne primary by the developed world, the specter of a global pandemic is something we must take very seriously. 

Over the last two years, we have witnessed the emergence of a deadly new H7N9 avian influenza in China and the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, the persistent scourge of HIV, the appearance of dengue fever and chikungunya in the continental U.S., and the terrifying expansion of ebola in Africa. 

Time is of the essence as public health agencies race to contain new outbreaks before they emerge on a global scale. Yet many occur when and where we are least equipped to detect and control them. Digital disease detection—the use of social media and internet search data to catch and track outbreaks—may buy us life-saving time. Tweets, blogs, and Wikipedia hits reveal what's ailing the world's population at much higher resolution and closer to real-time than our 20th century disease surveillance systems.

In a special talk Wednesday morning, October 22, at HomeAway's offices in Austin, Texas, SFI External Professor Lauren Ancel Meyers discussed global pandemics, the current threats of ebola and influenza, and how big data and modern computing are helping to fight contagion.

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