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BioAgent Facts app lacks virulence

BioAgent Facts app image UPMC
Facts, yes...pizazz, no.

BioAgent Facts app from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) provides facts about diseases that could be encountered as a result of a naturally occurring event or intentional release. UPMC hosts the Center for Biosecurity and publishes several on-line publications such as Biosecurity News Today and Clinicians' Biosecurity News. I'm a subscriber to the UPMC/Biosecurity newsletter and familiar with their content quality.

Below is the text description of the BioAgent Facts app as given in the iTunes Store:
BioAgent Facts gives you facts about pathogens that could cause serious disease resulting from a natural epidemic or use as a biological weapon. This new app is offered by the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for those interested in learning more about these important diseases and the threat of bioterrorism. iTunes description

BioAgent Facts screenshot (UPMC/iTunes)
BioSecurity Facts are listed for each pathogen convered. The pathogens covered in this release are:
  • Anthrax
  • Botulism
  • Flu
  • Plague
  • SARS
  • Smallpox
  • Tularemia
  • Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (VHF)
  • and...Zombies? (Yes, Zombies)

Facts for each pathogen are categorized by tabs for:
  1. Background
  2. Illness
  3. Treatment
Background information includes further details on transmission and potential for use as a bioweapon.

Background screen (iTunes/UPMC)
Under the illness tab the user will find general signs and symptoms for each pathogen and variations. As with Anthrax and Plague, for example, the various types have their own subcategories.

The treatment tab includes information on prophylaxis, vaccine, as well as decontamination and personal protection as appropriate for each pathogen. BioAgent Facts app users are reminded to contact local health departments for more information during a confirmed biological attack and encouraged to report to your local hospital if you think you've been exposed, or exhibit unusual signs or symptoms.

Generally speaking, information in this app is well defined and the content written for those of us without advanced microbiology degrees. The source (UPMC) is a trusted authority and the facts are consistant with other sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Bioterrorism Agents/Diseases page.

The graphics and color choices used in the BioAgent Facts app are appealing, albeit somewhat spooky. The app is rated 9+ by iTunes for Infrequent/Mild Horror/Fear Themes. (Click here learn more about iTunes ratings) While the graphics/color scheme are engaging, I found the white text on blue background difficult to read. Use of the app was complicated by the inability to re-size the screen with gestures and small text.

Although the pathogens included in this release are potential threats, Dengue Fever and West Nile Virus may be timely additions. The "special feature" on Zombies is a complete waste of valuable real estate in this app. With all respect to popular culture, including zombies in BioAgent Facts diminishes the value and credibility of the app. The section dedicated to Zombies would be better served by including details of personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, guidelines for hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and appropriate social distancing during a biologic event. A segment on the importance/risks/benefits of vaccines would be more appropriate use of space as well.

BioAgent Facts is compatable with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad with iOS 4.2 or later. I'm running this app on an iPhone4 with iOS 4.2. Its stable and runs quickly. The link for BioAgent Facts Support on iTunes links back to the UPMC homepage where the BioAgent Facts app icon has you running in circles back to iTunes. There is no mention of versions, additional features or anticipated upgrades.

Final Score:
Content: 2.0 I'd like to see more detail and better use of information. Telling people to report to your local hospital may not be the ideal action to take in every biologic situation and contacting the local health department may be impossible. The inclusion of a Zombie category lowers credibility, too. Dumping the Zombies and adding personal protection information or vaccine facts, and provide links for information rather than reporting to hospital or contact health department makes this a 4.0 app! I would not recommend this version BioAgent Facts for anything more than casual use.

Aesthetics/graphics: 4.0 I liked the graphics and color combinations.

Ease of Use: 2.0 I found the tabs/buttons too small and kept hitting the info button when trying to tap the home tab. Text is too small and white text on blue background was hard to read. Although stable on an iPhone (iOS 4.2) there is no clear support/FAQ available.

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