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Effectively Managing Flu Epidemics Using GIS Technology

March 2, 2018
GIS, Government
By: Vivian Nguyen

Detecting and responding to any type of infectious disease requires geographic accuracy along with the ability to track and gather data. A GIS platform allows you to visualize and analyze information layered onto a map in order to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.

Many government agencies rely heavily on a geographic information system (GIS), using GIS to help safeguard public health and wellness, and to mitigate existing and potential epidemics. The 2017/2018 flu season has been particularly brutal, leaving government agencies throughout the United States working overtime to manage its effects.

public health - mapping out the flu


A GIS helps public health officials in a number of ways, including:

  • View visual spread of disease over a particular population
  • View spread of disease over a certain period of time
  • Location of emergency and public health services in relation to the overall population
  • Whether the proximity of public health services helps to stop or slow the spread of epidemics
  • Communicating critical information to citizens

During a health crisis, a spatial view of a community paired with public health data offers easier analysis of the existing situation and can provide a predictive model of where epidemics could spread and where people can turn for help. In planning for the future, spatial analysis can review the overall response to a public health crisis and modify certain elements to mitigate the severity of future outbreaks.

Visualize Where Flu Outbreaks will Spread

Pairing data collection with digital mapping strengthens management and analysis of information by allowing officials to easily visualize the geographic progression of outbreaks. Public health officials using GIS can monitor the progression of the disease against what the available resources are, and can quantify how effective the medical response will be.

For example, officials using GIS paired with public health data can quickly identify areas of greatest population density, and they can see when the disease is likely to hit those areas. This allows them to give priority resources for those vulnerable areas to prevent and control outbreaks as much as possible.

Importing Data from Public Health Agencies

When government works together with public health agencies and doctors offices, georeferencing the data they gather could reveal powerful insights on detection and surveillance to effectively respond to epidemics and gain knowledge as to what resources could be required to combat future epidemics.

A GIS platform should contain accurate information on population density, the location of pharmacies, doctors, hospitals and emergency services, as well as drive times to these services. It should also provide accurate address and ownership information, making it easy to contact constituents when necessary.

For example, working together with public health agencies, these survey questions could be distributed to various communities within your jurisdiction to assist in better understanding and combating flu epidemics:

  • Are you aware that the CDC recommends annual flu shots?
  • Did you get a flu vaccine?
  • Have you ever gotten a flu vaccine?
  • Did everyone in your home get a flu vaccine?

The answers to the survey questions above, paired with spatial data, can help government agencies understand what resources are needed and where they are needed most. These can include education on flu shots, education on what to do if you have the flu, popup clinics offering vaccines, extra sanitation services in highly populated areas during flu season, and materials for employers and schools to help prevent epidemics from spreading.

Collaboration Between Jurisdictions

A GIS platform should facilitate communication between different jurisdictions by making it easy to import information, analyze it, and then communicate findings internally, and to other government offices and constituents. This form of communication can alert jurisdictions about whether the disease is spreading, how quickly it’s spreading, where it’s peaking, and whether clinics and hospitals are overwhelmed.

Communicate with Constituents to Contain Flu

A GIS platform should offer a portal that allows government agencies to have a dialogue with the community they serve so that they can easily communicate the status of disease and educate people on the resources available to them.

Help your community stay safe by posting:

  • Location of hospitals, doctors offices, and urgent care clinics
  • Locations offering flu shots
  • An explanation of flu symptoms
  • What to do if you think you have the flu
  • Steps people should take to prevent catching the flu
  • A map-based projection of when and where flu is expected to hit hardest
  • Updates on any vaccine or antiviral shortages
  • The ability to report on whether individual constituents have been diagnosed with flu

Public knowledge and education is a huge piece in helping to prevent the spread of disease, making easy communication critical for government agencies.

Preparing for the Future

Government agencies will develop stronger insights into future epidemics when tracking and analyzing data during a current epidemic to accordingly develop data-backed budgets and strategies for flu control and prevention. This includes tracking regional and statewide distribution of hospital supplies, staff, and medication in relation to populations hit the hardest, and how quickly those resources are depleted.

Use Government-Specific GIS Platforms

Here are important features government agencies should look for when considering onboarding a GIS platform to help track and manage public health and wellness:

  1. Supports novice users and experts
  2. Simple, seamless data importation
  3. Easy access to data for all departments
  4. Ability to analyze complex spatial information with visual data displays
  5. Portal to communicate with constituents
  6. Continually updated data to ensure accuracy

Using GIS to help combat some of our nation’s biggest problems will promote gains in accuracy, effectiveness, resource tracking, and even cost savings. GIS technology provides actionable data that helps state and local government agencies develop strong human health initiatives. This includes the flu, as well as other public health concerns.

Health and human services are a spatial issue, and GIS provides a platform to effectively track and manage this information, and then view it layered onto a map for easier analysis. This offers unique insights and solutions can be revealed to solve some of the biggest health problems facing communities including the nation’s opioid crisis, homelessness, foodborne illness, and so much more.

Interested in learning more about GIS for government and how it can benefit your agency? Sign up for a GovClarity Demo!

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