With Flu season approaching and flu concerns on the rise, I felt it fitting to follow the story of Google's new Flu Tracking Program. The program works by analyzing search queries based on region. By monitoring how often words like Influenza, Flu, and similar terms appear in each Region's search queries, Google makes a rough estimate on where flu activity is on the rise. This new detection system, when compared to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's old detection system, was surprisingly accurate, and could actually predict flu patterns much faster. Jeremy Ginsburg, the lead engineer behind Google's new program, stated that "Researchers found a tight correlation between the relative popularity of flu-related search terms and CDC's surveillance data"(Landau), confirming that the program was a success.
"Traditionally, influenza surveillance has involved physicians' reports of patients with flu-like symptoms, lab reports of influenza from nasal and throat swabs, and death certificates"(Landau). However, with this new program, everyone who uses the internet to learn more about illnesses online helps create a sort of collective Intelligence. Referring to this collective flu-intelligence will help many people and doctors take the necessary precautions when flu is on the rise in their areas. Dr. Randall Stafford, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University's Prevention Research Center, stated that "I would be very hesitant to diagnose influenza at this point in the year, but if the tool tells me influenza in California is really increasing dramatically, I might be more likely or willing to diagnose,"(Landau).
Here's a news reel covering Google's Flu Detection program.
In addition, here's a direct link to the new program.
Because we live on a college campus in a bustling college town, illnesses when introduced here, tend to spread like wildfire. This was much of the reason why I opted to follow this story. An observation I made on the day of my presentation, was that
The two resources I used as my main means of research were an article from CNN and an article from The New York Times.
Landau, Elizabeth. "Google tool uses search terms to detect flu outbreaks." CNN Health.