Researchers from the University of Arizona’s (UA) College of Public Health and the UA Bio Computing Facility have released the Kidenga app, a free crowdsourcing mobile app designed to track the Zika virus before an outbreak happens.

Kidenga is a community-based disease detection system that allows public health investigators to track mosquito-populations within a community and identify those experiencing Zika symptoms. In addition, the app also provides users with confirm-cases, educational materials and real-time mosquito activity.

In response to the Zika outbreak, the researchers are reaching out to US citizens to help collect data on the Aedes aegypti, the mosquitos that transmit the disease linked to severe birth defects. Florida and Texas have some of the highest Aedes aegypti populations in the country and, according to recent reports, Florida has ongoing Zika transmission.

“If enough people use the app, it may be able to detect ZIP codes that appear to have an uptick of suspicious symptoms. This early alert is critical to reduce or prevent further spread of the virus,” said Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the College of Public Health, Kacey Ernst, in a statement.

“Kidenga has a nice balance that allows researchers and participants to help each other, making good use of mobile technology,” continued Merchant.

The goal is to provide communities with educational information, along with up-to-date Zika information, added Ernst.

The Kidenga app will prompt users to report mosquito activity and symptoms in their community, on a weekly basis. Users can also access aggregated data from other users’ reports.

According to Ernst, public health officials are struggling to reduce the risk of transmission by controlling mosquitos that transmit these diseases. Traditional surveillance relies heavily upon routine tracking of those who seek care, get tested and are reported to the health department.

“Very few health-surveillance, citizen-science apps focus on managing the contributed data, extracting value and providing verified information back to participants,” said Director at UA Bio Computing Facility, Nirav Merchant.

In the future, researchers hope to expand the focus to other states, with attention to areas with higher-risk of infections.

“We already are envisioning how we can better help communities learn how to control mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, through games, climate-based alerts and other strategies to keep people engaged and knowledgeable,” concluded Ernst.

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