Since Sick People Surf the Web, Google Now Tracking Flu Trends

By Nina Bai | November 11, 2008 7:52 pm

fluWhile doctors may gripe about the increasing number of patients that arrive in their offices with WebMD printouts and search-engine-assisted self diagnoses, Google sees it as opportunity. Today, Google.org (the philanthropic arm of the Google monster) unveiled Google Flu Trends, a web tool that will track flu outbreaks based on user-generated search terms.

Flu Trends works because the Google search box is so often the first place people turn at the first sign of a sniffle. The company says Flu Trends could alert users to flu activity in their area up to two weeks ahead of traditional systems like emergency room reports.

The New York Times reports:

To develop the service, Google’s engineers devised a basket of keywords and phrases related to the flu, including thermometer, flu symptoms, muscle aches, chest congestion and many others. Google then dug into its database, extracted five years of data on those queries and mapped the data onto the C.D.C.’s reports of “influenza-like illness,” which the agency compiles based on data from labs, health care providers, death certificates and other sources. Google found an almost perfect correlation between its data and the C.D.C. reports.

Flu Trends gives you a day-to-day report on flu activity across the country, so you’ll know to stay in bed if your state turns red (level: intense)—in which case, Google will still be there for you, letting you stargaze and navel-gaze from the comfort of your own home. It won’t make you chicken soup…yet.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Google Brings You to Outer Space

Image: flickr / Pitel

MORE ABOUT: flu, google
  • Gwenny

    Social networks could do that as well. There seems to be some sort of flu going around several areas where I have friends.

  • lewismd

    This only works when the searcher uses the correct medical semantics and specific clinical terminology. The term -muscle aches- does not equal -flu outbreak-.

    There was actually a task force sponsored by Consumers Union and HHS/Disease Prevention several years ago that studied this, found Google searching was too uncontrolled and random to actually predict an outbreak (see: http://www.urac.org/savedfiles/URAC_CWW_Health_Search_White_Paper1203.pdf).

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »