New online epidemic tracking tool developed

Researchers have developed a free, real-time epidemic visualisation and tracking platform that can be used to monitor outbreaks of Ebola, Zika and antibiotic-resistant microbes.
Microreact is a cloud-based system that combines the power of open data and the web, to provide real-time global data sharing and visualisation, allowing anyone to explore and examine outbreak information with unprecedented speed and detail.
This is becoming increasingly important in the race to monitor and control fast-developing outbreaks like Ebola or Zika, or the growing threat of anti-microbial resistance, researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Imperial College London said.
Microreact allows data and metadata sets to be uploaded via a web browser, which can then be visualised, shared and published in a research paper via a permanent web link.
Until now disease data, and geographic information about the movement of an infection or disease as it evolves and spreads, has been locked up in databases that are often out of people’s reach.
Researchers have been left to rely on published information in research papers, which may be many months out of date, containing static visuals which show only a small part of the whole disease or infection threat.
The partnership with Microbial Genomics allows the journal to make data from prospective publications available through Microreact.
This promotes open availability and access while also starting to build a unique resource for global health professionals and scientists.
“Until now, the global research community has been hamstrung because results are generally only shared in static pictures or tables in publications. Microreact allows everyone to explore the information dynamically across both time and space letting them see the whole picture,” said Dr David Aanensen, Director of the Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance.
“Using Microreact takes disease tracking out the hands of a privileged few and gives it to everyone who wants to understand disease evolution,” said Aanensen.
“We gathered together data from almost 2000 samples Salmonella Typhi bacteria collected by 74 collaborators in 63 countries,” Kathryn Holt, from the University of Melbourne, said.
“By comparing the different strains and mapping them to when and where they were ‘caught’ we were able to show that a new drug-resistant strain emerged in Asia and has spread across that continent and into Africa,” said Holt.
“We have put all this information on Microreact and now anyone can see exactly what we saw both scientists and those public health professionals tasked with controlling such outbreaks,” said Holt.
Microreact also allows individual researchers to share information globally and in real-time crowdsourcing new discoveries and insights that could have immediate impact.
The research was published in the journal Microbial Genomics