Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Google Flu Trends

Technology can help public health officials more quickly identify outbreaks of disease. Yesterday the NYtimes carried a story about Google tracking the geographic dispersion of the flu by tracking the origin of searches. It turns out the first thing people do before calling the doctor, is Google for "flu symptoms".
In early February, for example, the C.D.C. reported that the flu cases had recently spiked in the mid-Atlantic states. But Google says its search data show a spike in queries about flu symptoms two weeks before that report was released. Its new service at analyzes those searches as they come in, creating graphs and maps of the country that, ideally, will show where the flu is spreading.

The C.D.C. reports are slower because they rely on data collected and compiled from thousands of health care providers, labs and other sources. Some public health experts say the Google data could help accelerate the response of doctors, hospitals and public health officials to a nasty flu season, reducing the spread of the disease and, potentially, saving lives.

“The earlier the warning, the earlier prevention and control measures can be put in place, and this could prevent cases of influenza,” said Dr. Lyn Finelli, lead for surveillance at the influenza division of the C.D.C. From 5 to 20 percent of the nation’s population contracts the flu each year, she said, leading to roughly 36,000 deaths on average.

The NYTimes graphic is here and more importantly the data are here . The data would make an excellent weekly instrumental variable for certain activity.

No comments: