When Google Flu Trends launched back in 2008, the search engine giant hoped to provide a better system of tracking cases of the flu throughout the country. The year following its release, a paper published in Nature showed Google Flu Trends was nearly on par with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveillance data and provided a cheap, fast tool to bridge the agency's typical two-week lag in reporting flu activity.
Now members of the team that developed Google Flu Trends have joined a new effort to improve methods for monitoring flu outbreaks and vaccination rates. The Skoll Global Threats Fund in partnership with HealthMap and the American Public Health Association developed and recently launched Flu Near You. The initiative asks participants to complete brief weekly surveys and, in return, it provides users with various resources, including maps of regional or state level flu activity and customized e-mail disease alerts for their location. Forbes reports:
“We think that people could be the fastest signal of when flu starts to spread in different communities,” says Mark Smolinski, director of Global Health Threats at the Skoll Global Threats Fund [and former director of Google.org's Prevent and Predict Initiative]. “In the long run, from our foundation’s perspective, we want to do participatory surveillance on all the [health] threats that are out there.” Eliminating pandemics is one of the goals of the Skoll Global Threats Fund.
Flu Near You has collected data from about 50,000 people. Smolinski’s goal is to get as many people to participate as possible. The nice thing about it: It doesn’t take more than a minute to answer the weekly survey. And you get to see a map of your area and look at the level of reported flu symptoms.
Previously: Ask Stanford Med: Answers to your questions about seasonal influenza, Student “Flu Crew” brings no-cost flu vaccinations to the community, Dynamic duo: Flu vaccine plus adjuvant bolsters immunity, Study shows Google Flu Trends data, patient spikes at emergency departments closely correlated
Photo by Christoph Spiegl