If a planned Japanese experiment using mobile phones to track disease carriers proves successful it could help limit pandemics like the current swine flu outbreak.

The Japanese government and mobile operator Softbank are planning a trial using 1,000 elementary school pupils, who will be given GPS-equipped phones and told to go about their normal business.

Monitoring exposure

Of the children, a set number will be randomly considered to be infected with an unspecified communicable disease. The survey will then use GPS data to track their movements and discover how many others they potentially expose to the 'disease'.

The idea is to then warn people who are at risk of exposure to stay indoors or have a health check. Estimates show that the exponential nature of disease transmission means reducing contact by just a few people a day can reduce the final numbers of those exposed by thousands.

Softbank explains: "The number of people infected by such a disease quickly doubles, triples and quadruples as it spreads. If this rate is decreased by even a small amount, it has a big effect in keeping the overall outbreak in check."

Big Brother fears

So far, the trial is still at the planning stage and there are also concerns about the legality of constantly monitoring people, but the potential is clear to see.

With swine flu clearly in mind, Softbank's spokesman underlines the company's hopes for the project, saying "I think it would have a bigger impact than Tamiflu."

(Via GMA News)