By Roman Temkin, New York-based Entrepreneur
There’s always a scary-sounding disease out there making headlines. From Swine Flu to Ebola, something is out there that can kill you, and someone is fighting a battle against it. That classic good versus evil dynamic makes for an amazingly compelling news story, but it also leads to an undercurrent of worry that never quite goes away. The latest name to add to this list: Zika virus.
You’ve likely seen the photos of babies with undersized heads that have been all over the news and social media recently. Even though there’s some serious push back against early reports that Zika is to blame, the virus is still connected with international fears of dread consequences. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a vaccine that could stop Zika before it happens?
Of course, that would just be step one in winning a fight against Zika. Vaccines are great, but they can’t get rid of disease scourges all on their own. For evidence of this reality, just look at the ongoing battles against measles, which is popping up even in the United States again.
The human race has succeeded in stopping one dread disease in its tracks. The fight against smallpox was won through a combined effort including PR campaigns, knowledge distribution, disease monitoring, tracking and targeted medical responses based on predictive analysis.
Do you know anything that may be able to help gather and track massive amounts of information and then use that information to make accurate predictions? Yep, big data science to the rescue once again. Science may be a long way from finding a vaccine to the virus, but, using data science, they can still implement the other protocols that helped in the eradication of smallpox as well as drastic reductions in polio and, to a lesser degree, measles.
The question then becomes, who will lead the fight against Zika virus? As it turns out, Google has answered that call. The international tech behemoth is in the process of gathering a team of volunteer engineers and data scientists to build a program to track, predict and stop Zika virus. This program will gather data from metrics as diverse as travel, weather patterns, and economic factors to predict where the disease may spread and how to best combat it there or catch it before it arrives.
The program is in its infancy, and no timeline has yet been established. But if organizers follow the big data successes of other similar programs, it’s possible – likely even – that Zika’s days as a growing global pandemic may never be realized, and the disease itself may be headed for extinction.