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Tracking Pandemics on the Web
Volume 40, Number 4 - July/August 2016

Where in the World Is Zika?

In his January 2001 speech to the World Economic Fo rum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director of WHO, said, “In the modern world, bacteria and viruses travel almost as fast as mon ey. With globalization, a single microbial sea washes all of humankind. There are no health sanctuaries” (“Addressing the Challenges of Unequal Distribution”;

As we see with the spread of Zika and cholera, the distribution of disease has as much to do with climate change, human mobility, and political missteps as with the patho gen itself. That being said, can we information profes sionals spot international health hazards and assess their direction and momentum? Fortunately, regarding Zika, several organizations offer current facts and maps to guide travelers and give advice to those living with infected mosquito populations.

On the global level, WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have launched a Zika Research Projects List, a database of scientific studies on the Zika virus worldwide, as well as epidemiological updates and interac tive maps ( WHO operates a Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC) that monitors international health threats ( sponse/shoc/en).

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Con trol (ECDC) offers up-to-date maps of “autochthonous,” or indigenous, Zika cases. Although the majority of cases are in Brazil and Central America, Vietnam also appears to be active ( ECDC also tracks other emerging and vector-borne diseases ( Chikungunya, anyone?

In the United States, the CDC has its citizens covered with its general information page about Zika—offered in both English and Spanish ( This is good, because poor Puerto Rico is infested with A. aegypti . The CDC also hosts the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic In fectious Diseases (NCEZID; site that gives the skinny on outbreaks that can affect travelers.

The Public Library of Science hosts PLOS Currents: Out breaks (, an open source yet peer-reviewed database of scientific articles about global and local health hazards. The locations of these outbreaks are mapped on the freely available, developed by Boston Children’s Hospital in 2006, combines official reports and online news aggregators “to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health” ( Because it collects and visualizes information automatically and in nine languages, it can help early detection of global public health threats. Healthmap’s maps can be zoomed to display local health threats, including salmonella and norovirus.

Finally, local vector control agencies supply facts and advice about controlling mosquito borne illness. For example, the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District (GLACVCD; warns about West Nile virus, which continues to threaten southern California.

What Next?

The world is full of dangers: terrorism, natural disasters, climate change, and pandemics. New health hazards emerge all the time. And yet, hope still prevails that reporting and sharing information about pandemics and emerging diseases will help governments and aid organizations to cooperate and respond effectively in order to reduce suffering throughout the globe.

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Irene E. McDermott is Reference Librarian/Systems Manager at the Crowell Public Library, in the City of San Marino, CA.


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