Artificial Intelligence and disease prevention

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COVID-19 has taken the world by storm. Lockdowns, quarantines, and shutdowns have created an unpredictable scenario that looks almost apocalyptic. But with the right kind of precautionary measures, knowledge, and resources, we can fight this too. This global crisis is a glaring reminder of the gap between what our current healthcare systems can handle and what they should be equipped to handle.

To bridge this gap and in order to provide the needed care to those affected, Artificial Intelligence (AI) might just be our best bet.

Prediction of Outbreaks

Epidemiology tracks the source of an outbreak and analyzes which sections of the population face the highest risk. With AI, it can become easier to find the pattern of the course of the outbreak and then to predict possibly affected people.

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Consider Blue Dot, an Artificial Intelligence agency from Canada that predicted the coronavirus outbreak days before it happened. This AI works by using data from around the world in different languages to comprehensively analyze trends in the disease patterns. This allows it to predict public outbreaks and track infectious diseases before they spread too much.

Mapping of Potential Victims

Using data of population sections, vulnerabilities, and previous diseases, AI can predict the possible turn of events with a pandemic such as a coronavirus. For example, we now know that COVID-19 affects people with respiratory diseases and elderly people more. With this knowledge, AI can use data analysis and predict that areas with larger populations of elderly people or countries with a high number of people with respiratory problems, will be most affected by COVID-19. Military veterans who have been exposed to asbestos become especially susceptible to something like coronavirus because of their compromised respiratory systems. This kind of information can become crucial in controlling COVID-19 from becoming fatal globally.

Currently, there are also cases of hackers stealing information with coronavirus map-tracker malware. Centralized AI performing this activity could have stopped this malware from reaching people. In this moment of widespread anxiety, it is important that we ensure we are reading the correct information and sharing information with safe sources.

Detection of Disease

In countries such as China and Italy, COVID-19 could only be controlled once its presence became known. Detecting disease before it’s too late might be one of the most important contributions AI can make to medical science.

An article on GCN by Steve Bennett, former director of the National Biosurveillance Integration Center within the Department of Homeland Security, talks about the potential of AI in terms of coronavirus. He writes that there are pilot approaches that use machine learning to “mine social media data for indications of unusual flu symptoms.” AI can also be used to examine “near-real-time emergency medical services and ambulance data, using ML (machine learning) to look for anomalies in the medical notes as patients were admitted to hospitals.” In these instances, AI was able to detect the disease much faster than physical tests — saving it from spreading and also ensuring that patients get the treatment in time.

In terms of outbreaks such as COVID-19, early detection is key to both saving lives as well as keeping economies stable. As early as 2009, researchers were using data streams available via internet activity to monitor for listeria outbreaks. Studies like this can be used as roadmaps for AI outbreak detection research.

Treatment Options and Medical Research

AI can also be of use in determining which treatments are the most effective for COVID-19. For example, if a treatment helps a patient recover faster in China, then AI can use that information to model and then apply the same treatment in Italy. In turn, AI can also quickly analyze other such cases and reach a possible method of treatment faster than humans alone.

Unfortunately, there is still no reliable vaccine for coronavirus — leaving mankind vulnerable to it. It is especially difficult to find preventative and curative alternatives in today’s post-antibiotic area. As stated by experts at Sani Professional, “superbugs and new diseases are emerging that have greater resistance to common cleaners and chemicals we rely on to sanitize, disinfect, and clean up spaces and tools every day.”  That being said, there is a lot of research being done on possible cures in the form of antibody research. Since it is still too early to know a specific time when the vaccine or an alternate immediate treatment will be available, the use of AI might help to speed up the process, and possibly highlight other avenues for curative research. Heavy hitters like IBM and Amazon are offering up their supercomputers to help with the research.

Remember, Safety First

Amidst the chaos and the flood of information, it is important that we put our safety first. Getting correct information from trusted sources is the first step towards this. Use updates from National Health Services, the WHO and more to keep yourself abreast of the current situation. It is especially important to comply with any imposed travel restrictions, and take precautions in case you’re planning to travel. Unless it is absolutely necessary, it is best to stay at home and wait for this pandemic to pass. Regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds (with soap) and social distancing, are key to protecting yourself and those around you from this disease.

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