It is interesting watching the various mashups being created by people to plot the cases of Swine flu as it appears to spread. One thing that has struck me is is the poor use of symbology to attempt to communicate the desired information.
The first Swine Flu map that appeared on Google was fairly readable, however the author had decided to use a contrary means to identify fatalities. Whilst black is commonly used during triage as a means of identifying a death, this neocartographer has decided to use a black dot in the symbol to signify that they are living and the removal of the dot to signify a fatality. Of course, when I first looked it the map my instant read was that black dots represented fatalities.
Within the last few hours, a second mapmaker has come along and tried to correct some of the errors that the first created – namely they have now adopted black to symbolise a fatality, however the new torso icon really makes it hard to get a good overview of what has happened, and all the black markers in Mexico are completely unreadable.
Perhaps the brief takeaway message from this is that some authority that is actually well versed in cartography for pandemics should have a system in place whereby they can make this information available – with well thought through, and designed cartography. There is clearly a desire for it as these mashups indicate.
Update: I thought I better have a go myself. So here is my first attempt. I took this information from the WHO Media Release. This first effort was just to get some of the case and fatality numbers out there. I decided to take an aggregated approach and use one icon per city/town. To give a slightly better representation, I had to take one of the Google Maps markers and produce scaled-down versions to represent the cities with far lower numbers of cases and fatalities. Next step later this afternoon may be to map some of the other figures – e.g. the reports in the United States from those that were infected in Mexico. I’ve also included a reference table if you click the marker, which will contain a list of figures as at various times. There is also a link to the source used for those figures. I think this approach will result in a much less cluttered map. I could look at using colour better as well. Red could be used to represent cities where there have been fatalities, and yellow where there have only been cases, but no fatalities. As reports move more towards countries and states, it will be less appropriate to maintain a city/town based approach. This then probably means that a move to polygons is required to better indicate the affected areas, as states/countries don’t lend themselves to a point-based approach.
View WHO report of Influenza-like Illness in a larger map
Finally, the Wikipedia article on the current influenza event has now received its own page.