Google Flu Trends Tracks Flu Outbreaks. Fast.

By November 13, 2008

Can the global mind keep you from getting sick? Google Flu Trends, created by Google search results, might actually do that. Flu Trends uses geographically aggregated search data to provide a flu map in close to real time. Google found that there is a strong correlation between Web searches for flu-related information and the CDC’s flu surveillance data. In fact, Google says that it might be able to predict outbreaks weeks before traditional methods.

While data from traditional flu tracking several weeks to collect and report, Google Flu Trends, based as they are on Google searches, can update the Flu map daily, which can enable a much faster response by health services. “Our up-to-date influenza estimates may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics and — though we hope never to find out — pandemics.”

Google Flu Trends was in part developed by the search company’s philanthropic wing’s Predict and Prevent initiative, which aims to “use information and technology to empower communities to predict and prevent emerging threats before they become local, regional, or global crises.”

This could be the future of disease-outbreak reporting, and is a good example of the global mind’s real-world application. “In theory, we could use this stream of information to learn about other disease trends as well,” Dr. Philip M. Polgreen, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa, said in the New York Times.

The flu is responsible for over 500,000 deaths worldwide.

This has been a busy release week for Google. The company also announced the release of Gmail Video and Voice Chat and a reconstruction of Rome at the time of Constantine (320 AD) on Google Earth. (I’m waiting for the reconstruction of pre-Hausmannian Paris.)

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