So, by going into the belly of the beast of any given city, we can ultimately determine what diseases are being spread, what drugs are being used, and what people are eating.
Currently, real-time surveillance systems of disease do not exist. At best, the flu is tracked on platforms set up by the CDC, which reports cases of the flu only after someone has gone to see the doctor. State and public health agencies work similarly, but nothing is reported in real-time. FluTrends shows us where people in the U.S. are Googling flu symptoms, but that doesn’t truly give insight into real-time transmission. HealthMap has been used previously to track diseases such as H1N1 and dengue fever by scouring social media and local news from across the world to pinpoint hotspots and display them on an interactive map. Despite these valiant efforts, nothing comes quite as close as to the system MIT wants to develop to forecast disease transmission before people start Googling disease symptoms and start seeing physicians.
Last year, the Underworlds team conducted pilot studies in the city of Boston, bringing back over 10 liters of sewage into the lab.
“We’re a poop-only lab,” says Alm, “So none of this grossed my lab out.”