Tracking the Flu with GPS Tracking Devices

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By Greg Bartlett

It seems like every other year or so when a radical new form of flu breaks onto the international scene. Scientists and health experts the world over have to divide their time evenly between developing an applicable vaccine for the disease and simply tracking the bug’s spread. Thankfully, this latter activity is made much easier with GPS tracking devices.

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This year, the need for tracking technology might not be as great. Admittedly, pigs carrying swine flu don’t travel all that fast. However, flocks of birds carrying the H5N1 strain across Asia still represent a great threat, and understanding where and when these animals travel is vital to predicting and preventing the spread of the next great flu pandemic. Small GPS tracking devices are therefore placed on birds such as Mongolian whooper swans. The trackers are held in place by a small harness designed to fray and deteriorate after a couple years, saving zoologists the trouble of re-catching the bird and freeing it from its tiny burden.

Weather satellites then track the birds and their respective flocks wherever they go, feeding data to scientists tasked with understanding how these dangerous diseases spread. That data is used to note common migratory patterns, as well as deviations in movement that are particular to flocks infected with a specific strain of flu. Health officials are warned of danger zones, and further human exposure is averted.

Thankfully, when carefully managed and humanely applied, GPS tracking devices can make a huge impact on the health environment of the world today.

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