Most academic researchers and private individuals use Wikipedia to research symptoms and treatments associated with various diseases, and scientists fully understand this. Scientists also understand that most people use Wikipedia to research various disease conditions because the online resource updates hourly traffic data on all its publicly available pages – to this end, scientists are using Wikipedia to predict the outbreak of diseases in several regions before the epidemic occurs.

Scientists believe a pattern of what people search for on Wikipedia could give insight into developing diseases; and to test this hypothesis, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory scrutinized three years’ worth of disease data searches on Wikipedia, and were able to create accurate predictions of the outbreaks of dengue fever in Brazil, and influenza in the US, Thailand, Poland, and Japan.

The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, but admitted that their predictions were less true for outbreaks of tuberculosis in Thailand and china, and the dengue fever epidemic in Thailand. The investigators were able to predict 28 disease outbreaks before they occurred, which underscores the point that people start searching for salient information on diseases and health conditions before they present themselves for medical examinations.

According to Sara Dell Valle, the leader researcher, “A global disease-forecasting system will change the way we respond to epidemics. In the same way we check the weather each morning, individuals and public health officials can monitor disease incidence and plan for the future based on today’s forecast.”

The only problem associated to their mode of Wikipedia disease predictions is that the scientists only relied on using the language of searches as a proxy for the country because search data cannot indicate the countries that a search originated from. They were also not able to record same level of prediction success for diseases like Ebola, cholera, plague, and HIV because of the mode of transmission for these diseases.

Although the researchers understand that using the Wikipedia-based approach was good and promising for exploring epidemic trends in details, they stated that their ultimate goal is to build a working disease monitoring and forecasting system where people use available open data as the open source code – and to this end, Dario Tarborelli, the head of research and data at the Wikimedia Foundation said his organization receives several requests a week from researchers looking for data, but then his company will not provide data grants for select persons and research institutes, because Wikimedia’s mandate is to make data openly available to anyone.

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