The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday October 25th

Smart phone app identifies when user is at risk for disease

The UNC-Duke basketball rivalry is as strong as ever, but researchers from both schools have engaged in a team effort to produce new disease-tracking technology.

Allison Aiello, UNC epidemiologist, and Katherine Heller, Duke statistician, have innovated a solution to the inaccurate self-reported surveys on behavior that contributes to the spread of disease, like the flu. 


Here are the symptoms of the flu according to the CDC:

  • 100 degree or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • Cough and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

“We were able to collect more accurate, more dense information because of this technology,” Aiello said.

Their new behavior-tracking technology, iEpi, is smart-phone friendly and automatic.

So yes — there is an app for that.

iEpi runs on Google Android smart phones and uses an automatic and self-reporting data collection system to track behavior and, most importantly, identify when the individual user is at risk for disease.

Aiello and Heller tested the new app, iEpi, on a group of about 100 students at the University of Michigan for ten weeks in the 2013 flu season. The two presented their findings at the 21st International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in August.

These conclusions included alcohol consumption as a significant contributor in the contraction and duration of the flu.

Once downloaded, iEpi measures personal behavior, but it also communicates with other users through Bluetooth to determine at-risk interactions, Heller said.

“Machine-learning analysis gives us a map, and we can use it to quantify interactions and behaviors on a large scale,” she said. “That technology didn’t exist three years ago.”

Thevy Chai, UNC campus physician, said campus vaccinations are preordered based on demand from students. Because of students’ tardiness in placing orders, it is common for UNC Campus Health to run out of vaccines. 

Though 3,400 influenza vaccinations were distributed last year, Chai said it was not enough to combat the flu season.

But Aiello said this behavior-tracking technology has future applications in other areas of medical research.

"This is the future of data collection," she said.

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