The New Flu Tracker
Flu Trends works by tracking the popularity of flu-related search queries within Google. Oddly enough, its engineers say that provides a reliable indicator of the actual flu levels in various regions — and in a far more timely fashion than any other kind of flu tracker system currently available.
“We compared these aggregated queries against data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we found that there’s a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week,” software engineers Jeremy Ginsberg and Matt Mohebbi explain.
CDC estimates, the two say, take one to two weeks to collect and compile — while the Google Flu Trends system presents data believed to be accurate as of right now. The benefit, then, is that you can get an early warning of a potential outbreak in your area and be able to prepare accordingly.
Google promises the data it uses to formulate its Flu Trends tracking is anonymized and aggregated, so it could never identify a specific user.
Flu symptoms, as defined by the CDC, include the following:
- Fever (usually high)
- Tiredness (can be extreme)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)
The best protection, of course, is getting vaccinated now. Most areas have readily available supplies of the flu vaccine that anyone can access, both in clinics and doctors’ offices and even in groceries and pharmacies.
You can read more about the flu, its diagnosis, and how it spreads at the official CDC influenza page.