Ebola has come to the largest city in the United States and is causing concern in a small town in Maine. Just about every news outlet in the U.S. focused on the latest outbreak last week.
Watching the coverage you couldn't help but wonder who might be vulnerable as the next victim and if even riding a bike around town is safe.
You also have to wonder why anyone would board a plane, ride the subway or go to work if Ebola hits close to home.
Kaci Hickox, the American nurse who returned to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, says she is fine. At one point, the CDC said she needed to be quarantined.
What are we supposed to do, and who are we to believe?
The answer is to take precautions and watch for ominous signs in our workplaces, communities and public spaces.
But Ebola isn’t the only contagious disease that we should be thinking about. It's flu season, and influenza, which annually kills thousands of people across the nation, is also upon us. Once someone in the office gets the flu, the odds are that everyone else will, too.
For years, companies have offered free or discounted flu shots to employees in an attempt to keep employees healthy and reduce sick days caused by the needless spread of disease. Now, with social, geo-location and wearable technologies, it’s time to deliver something more.
Employers must expand their efforts to keep their workforce healthy, encouraging good habits and providing employees with real-time information about the local threat of illnesses.
Companies clearly benefit from being proactive and transparent in addressing employee concerns about public health.
New wearable technology, and even crowdsourcing, could help keep people safe from Ebola and other contagious diseases. We could build a visual map of a contagion’s spread, enabling the government and first responders to develop predictive models and allocate resources effectively and early in an outbreak.
In our office, we encourage people to stay healthy by washing their hands, using hand sanitizer regularly, cleaning up after group meetings, wiping down community tables and bathroom sinks regularly and other commonsense health measures.
But advanced technology allows us to take it a step further; we can pair simple software with wearable hardware to provide employees with proven actions that anyone can take to combat disease.
From Smartwatches to other wearables like glasses, the hardware is seamlessly integrated into our daily lives to monitor our health and respond in real-time to external threats.
From the flu to Ebola and everything in between, wearable devices can provide critical, relevant, actionable recommendations on vitamin deficiencies and water intake or other indicators of disease.
Geo-location would then help alert employees of hot spots – malls, train stations, post offices – and other high-traffic areas where diseases fester and grow.
Experts worry that screening procedures will never be sufficiently effective to keep all sick patients from flying. Mobile and wearable technologies, however, can also enable the government to take data from the CDC and alert the public en masse about “hot zones” for diseases, helping to keep our workforce safe and healthy.
According to a new study published in the Lancet, as many as three Ebola-infected people will unwittingly fly out of the hardest hit African nations every month. But with Ebola’s fast incubation period, wearable technology creates a valuable extra line of defense in isolating potential cases in the crucial hours after takeoff.
There is a lot of misinformation in the public about Ebola, but it’s clearly a problem that won’t go away soon.
As the government, the military and biotech companies work on containing and fighting the spread of Ebola, the public has an important role to play too. And using cutting-edge technology like Cloudwear to help protect yourself is about to become as standard as hand sanitizer.
Evan Tann is co-Founder and CEO of Cloudwear, Inc., a company that builds, markets and sells patented technology and solutions to acquire and retain customers for the world's largest brands.