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Google Flu Tracker shows where flu is spreading

November 11, 2008 |  4:11 pm

Sneeze1 Under the surveillance systems used by federal health officials, it can take two weeks or longer to confirm that influenza has spread to a particular state or region of the country. Now, however,, the philanthropic arm of Google, has demonstrated it can track flu cases faster by analyzing the use of common search terms, such as "flu" and "flu-like" and "flu vaccine," to estimate flu activity.

Google Flu Trends surveillance tool was launched today and shows little activity in the nation so far. The tool compares data from this season to data collected during the 2007-2008 flu activity. Last year's data was compared to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to verify that the Google flu tracker is accurate. While not everyone who searches flu terms on the Internet has the flu, a pattern emerges when all flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together.

"This could conceivably provide as early a warning of an outbreak as any system," Lyn Finelli of the CDC's influenza division told The New York Times. "The earlier the warning, the earlier prevention and control measures can be put in place, and this could prevent cases of influenza."

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Peter Adams/For the Times

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Comments (7)

Very creative and novel. I’m looking forward to seeing how this holds up and correlates to verified flu outbreaks. I hope this works because I just love the stuff that Google comes up with! Austin

It is frequently repeated in news articles that 'the flu' causes at least 36,000 deaths each year in the U.S. A more accurate number is 140, with more than 100 of those deaths in people at least 75 years old. The CDC's own data shows it. See

One of the best ways to prevent the flu to ensure that your immune system is boosted, is to ensure that you get enough Vitamin D3.
If the CDC would ever show the protective benefit from sunlight and the natural Vitamin D3 it brings (or a supplement when there is minimal sun in the winter), people could protect themselves much better than getting the often usless and often deleterious flu shot.

Think Vitamin D3 will not help to prevent flu? Ask yourself why flu is more prevalent in the winter, at low altitudes, and at high latitudes.

Good idea, but maybe they could fix Michigan on their maps?
Somebody forgot to separate the lakes from the land and it looks terrible.

Should we really be trusting the New York Times with something as important as tracking the flu?

This only works when the searcher uses the correct “medical semantics” and specific clinical terminology. “Muscle aches” do 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:

The Google Flu development is part of a larger movement toward electronic health records (EHR). Collected data on healthcare and care providers helps identify the best care options and successful providers, all aimed at affordable healthcare. EHR goes beyond this intriguing flu tracking,, and earlier online tools such as WebMD to identify, for example, diabetes or heart disease outbreaks. All of these parts taken together can help us become smarter about our healthcare.

Emerging EHR efforts get a big push in Seattle on Dec. 1 at the Healthcare Town Hall meeting of elected officials, healthcare experts, and data and technology providers discussing healthcare reform and electronic health records. . Free and open to the public at 7:30 p.m. at Seattle's Town Hall.
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