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US bots flagged Ebola before outbreak announced

By The Associated Press

This article was published August 9, 2014 at 12:20 p.m.

BOSTON — The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool that flagged a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" in the region several days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians' social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children's Hospital.

Co-founder John Brownstein says the Ebola outbreak has triggered a massive increase in visitors to their online tool.

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