Using Google Flu Trends to monitor Internet search traffic data about influenza could serve as an effective early warning tool and help hospital emergency departments anticipate surges in flu-like cases, according to a report published yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In the study (subscription required), Johns Hopkins University researchers recorded and reviewed Google Flu data for Baltimore City as well as patient information for individuals visiting the adult and pediatric emergency departments at Johns Hopkins Hospital from January 2009 to October 2010. According to a university release:
[Researchers] found the correlation between Internet searches and patient volume was most pronounced when researchers reviewed data showing a rise in search traffic for flu information and the number of children coming into the Hopkins pediatric emergency room with what doctors call influenza-like illness or ILI.
Building on these findings, researchers hope to develop a reliable flu surveillance model that emergency departments could use to reasonably predict a spike in the number of flu-like cases. Such a system could help emergency department directors and senior administrators prepare by beefing up staffing or opening up patient annexes.
Previously: Using Facebook to study cardiovascular health, Analyzing H1N1 vaccination rates and attitudes using Twitter data, Facebook app models how viruses spread through human interaction, Mining Twitter data to track public health trends and Following Google Flu Trends, researchers use queries to track MRSA