CDC, Google partner to predict flu patterns

Florida is one of 43 states reporting high flu activity this month

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida is one of 43 states reporting high flu activity this month.

The Centers for Disease Control reported last week that 26 children have died of complications from the flu nationwide this flu season.

While the CDC measures the level of flu-like illness and hospitalizations weekly in each state, Google searches also help health professionals track the spread of the virus.

As you would expect, there are more flu-related web searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season and more sunburn-related searches during the summer. Google claims it can prove that these search patterns match up with the actual rate of such afflictions.

Several years ago Google predicted the H1N1 outbreak about two weeks ahead of official sources, yet researchers remained skeptical if this would work consistently.

Four social scientists found that the most accurate flu predictor was a data mash-up that combined Google Flu Trends, which monitored flu-related search terms, with the official CDC reports from doctors on influenza-like illness. Since early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected, CDC and Google have partnered to create the most up-to-date influenza estimates that could enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics and pandemics.

Traditional flu surveillance is very important, but most health agencies focus on a single country or region and only update their estimates once per week. Google Flu Trends is currently available for a number of countries around the world and is updated every day, providing a complement to these existing systems.


About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.