Google Takes on Zika Virus With Mapping Project to Visualize Outbreaks

PHOTO:A member of the National Health Foundation fumigates against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, vector of the dengue, chikungunya fever and zika viruses, in Gama, Brazil, Feb.17, 2016. PlayEvaristo SA/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH 5 Things You Need to Know About Zika Virus

Google is leveraging its technological expertise in the hope it can help curb the spread of the Zika virus.

The search engine giant announced several initiatives today to help combat the virus, including an open-source mapping platform and more detailed information for people searching about the mosquito-borne virus.

"As a company whose mission is helping people find information, with a lot of experience in analyzing large sets of data, we’re in a good position to help -- at scale and at speed. So today we have Google engineers working with UNICEF to analyze data to determine how to map and anticipate the virus," a Google blog post announcing the initiatives said.

Google reported a 3,000 percent spike in searches for Zika since last November. Since as many as four in five people don't show symptoms of Zika, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google's team said a data-driven solution was needed to help map the virus.

Google's volunteer engineers, designers and data scientists are joining UNICEF to build an open-source platform that can help visualize potential Zika outbreaks. The map will draw on data from various sources, including weather and travel patterns to help provide a visualization of potential outbreaks.

"Ultimately, the goal of this open source platform is to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help UNICEF, governments and NGO’s decide how and where to focus their time and resources," Google's announcement said, referring to non-governmental organizations. "This set of tools is being prototyped for the Zika response, but will also be applicable to future emergencies."

Google also announced a $1 million grant for UNICEF to be used for mosquito eradication, vaccine development, and awareness campaigns.

The Zika virus has been spreading throughout the Americas and the World Health Organization has deemed it a "global health threat."

Common symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, according to the CDC. The virus has also been associated with a rise of microcephaly birth defect cases in Brazil. The birth defect is characterized by a malformed or smaller head and brain and can result in serious developmental delays.