The Department of Health and Human Services over the past year has instituted a number of challenges, with a financial prize, for software developers to build new applications.

Now it has a new one: HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is offering $21,000 and some other perks to the developer or team that creates an app that uses Twitter to track health trends in real time. During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, HHS officials learned that in some cases social media provided the first clues to influenza outbreaks, says Nicole Lurie, M.D., assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

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