“Two Buck Chuck”

Do you know this sore?

Here’s an item that manages to seem both incredibly cool — and incredibly gross. Mark Frauenfelder, one of the bloggers at BoingBoing, recently moved to the remote Pacific island of Rarotonga. This week, he developed a strange sore, and since there are no dermatologists on the tiny island, he scanned the sore and put it online — to see if any readers could diagnose what it is.

Consider this the first case of “distributed medicine”. Geeks have used the technique for years to diagnose computer problems; they’ll use bulletin boards to post error messages that they’re getting from code, and see if anyone can help them out. Invariably, the infinite-monkeys approach of the Internet can solve the problem — when you toss out a question to an audience of millions, odds are good that someone will instantly know the answer. So Mark’s experience is an interesting experiment. Could we apply the same approach to diagnosing illnesses?

So far, he’s received several diagnoses on BoingBoing’s comment boards, including:

“in guam we got those - never knew if it was a bug bite or what - but being sweaty, maybe not too clean, in the ocean (everyday/all day), they just never healed well. what we did: scrubbed them with bristle brush first - bleeds, but cleans it out (we were camping…maybe you’re in better conditions) - dressed them with HP and kept them dry - in a couple of days all was well…”

“this looks just like something I had last month. it was a staph infected insect bite. the nurse said there had many here recently and the staph was highly antibiotic resistant. Very important to treat with the correct antibiotic. have a culture made if possible to determine the correct meds. if this is a resistant bug, treatment can be difficult if not caught in time.”

Then again, as one reader posted, it might be ringworm — but “I’d think we should let the medical personnel over there have their chance before we diagnose via Internet.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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