Want to know the flu picture in your area? Don’t wait for the Center for Disease Control to tell you – use the Google flu tracker! According to Google, their new Google Flu Trends service can predict and provide you with flu trend predictions as much as two weeks earlier than can the CDC!
Google Flu Trends works by noting and aggregating all of the searches which Google knows – based on historic data – relate to areas where the flu is currently hitting. For example, if someone is searching for “flu remedies” (our term, not Google’s), the odds are good that they or someone they know has the flu. Of course, they may not, but if thousands of people from their same area are conducting similar searches, it’s a good bet that the flu has come a’calling there.
(If you’re wondering how Google can tell where you are located, read our article on geolocation.)
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“We’ve found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity in your state up to two weeks faster than traditional flu surveillance systems. … We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discovered that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.
Perhaps even more interesting, it turns out that Google was informing the CDC last year:
“During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.”
So, want to see what Google is saying about flu trends in your area now? Check out Google Flu Trends.
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