When is it ok to upload observations of viruses?

Hi, I was just wondering when It would be ok to post viruses as most observations I see are microscope photos and there don’t seem to be too many of just normal people with the disease. Which of these scenarios would be ok to post on INat? And would it even be useful data?

  1. You know you have the virus based on showable evidence (Like HFMD)
  2. You know you have the virus based on non-showable symptoms (Things that cause headaches, join pain, etc.)
  3. You know you had the virus but your only evidence is indirect photos and the symptoms (Attendance sheet, proof you took sick days at work, etc.)

There are quite a few records of SARS-CoV-2 based on photos of positive test results.


I should’ve mention that, thank you. This is concerning diseases without tests though

If the symptoms can be documented by photos, absent a diagnostic test result, and the symptoms are unique for a particular disease or related group of diseases, then I would think you could post as a record. Just having a fever or flu-like symptoms probably isn’t enough to indicate what you have.

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Thanks, that pretty much what I assumed. What if there’s a known outbreak of RSV and multiple people I know have it and gotten it confirmed, would be safe to assume that the disease I have with the same symptoms as them is RSV too?

Ask your health professional?


Not really an option, and I just want to know if it’d be useful data for INat, I’m not currently sick

I tend to think no for two reasons.

  1. I don’t know how you would represent this in iNat to provide evidence. Would you show a picture of yourself coughing?
  2. While contact tracing can help with screening, it’s not diagnostic. The symptoms aren’t these specific and RSV is typically circulating at the same time as other respiratory viruses.

Edited because I accidentally published before finishing. :woman_facepalming:


(edited the title to make it clear the topic is about observations of viruses)


As opposed to uploading viruses which is never okay.


Ok, that’s what I thought. Thank you!

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Years ago I had a case of giardiasis and had the printed lab results to document it. I suppose I could have photo’d the lab results and posted that as evidence of the disease organism that was living in my gut, but this was long before iNat. I almost certainly got it somewhere in Mexico so the origin location might’ve been hard to pin down although I obviously had it with me in my home city where it was diagnosed.

I haven’t yet had Covid to my knowledge but I might be inclined to post those test results in the event I get it. But that’s an iNat observation I’d rather not have.

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That is a human tendency, but it tends to muddle an issue more than shed light on it. A few years ago, when ebola was making headlines, a humorous meme came across social media: “Brace yourselves. Flu season is coming and everyone is going to think they have ebola.” That may be an exaggeration, but when one disease is in the news a lot, people tend to fixate on it and forget that all the other diseases they know about do not just step aside. Yes, during the height of the COVID pandemic, people did still get colds and flu.


I thought that too when I saw the title

And here, I thought this thread was going to be about electronmicrographs!


Why is a whole section in inaturalist to observe protozoa in the first place. Aren’t they to small to observe.

Microscope photos


You can make an observation in any of the scenarios you gave - it’s possible to make iNat observations without any media if a users wants them for their own record-keeping or other purposes. However, these observations can never be RG.

In your scenarios, if you are interested in the record being able to become RG, you would need to ask “Can I present enough evidence that another user could add a confirming ID?” or a more everyday, related question might be “Would a doctor feel confident giving a diagnosis based on evidence I can present on photos alone?”

I think in many cases, the answer would be “No,” but there are some diseases with very diagnostic “field marks” in humans (bulls eye rash for Lyme might be one). Test results would definitely be evaluable I would think.

I would also carefully consider the potential costs to making one’s personal medical history visible online. I don’t think iNat data is really used by any epidemiologists or disease ecologists because there are so few observations of human disease on the site. But if you want the data for a life list or similar and are comfortable sharing, go for it.


This is a problem with a lot of plant viruses, many of which present with very similar symptoms. Before I would upload a plant virus observation, I would want to research how specific its symptoms are, because I am not interested in life-listing “Viruses” – or “State of Matter Life,” if someone else disagrees that it even is a virus.