Magazine article Risk Management

Flu Shot

Magazine article Risk Management

Flu Shot

Article excerpt

Google's newest interactive map is tracking flu outbreaks with better accuracy than the CDC simply by pinpointing user searches for common symptoms.

In yet another testament to the power of the internet giant Google, a new web tool developed by the company is proving to be even more adept at tracking influenza outbreaks than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Google Flu Trends tracks influenza cases by aggregating common flurelated search terms and mapping out where in the country these queries are coming from.

Since these searches are generally indicative of actual flu activity, the data can be used to quickly determine the location of flu outbreaks. In one instance last year, Google Flu Trends discovered a spike in flu activity in the Mid-Atlantic states two weeks before the CDC.

The speed and effectiveness of Google Flu Tracker data as compared to that of the CDC can be attributed to a shift in the health-seeking behavior of people who become sick. Rather than immediately going to the doctor, many people now research their symptoms online first. This gives Google a head-start on flu data collection. In contrast, the CDCs reports are generated from data collected from health care providers-a process that accounts for the two-week lag time.

While the system's accuracy over time is still being tested, its promise would make it invaluable to health care officiais who have long acknowledged that faster response times to flu outbreaks could prevent the spread of the illness, thereby saving lives and reducing the influenza-related economic impact. …

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