January 18, 2013 By Hilton Collins
The annual flu pandemic usually peaks each January and February, and 2013 is no exception. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 22,048 flu cases from Sept. 30, 2012 through that year’s end, and as of Jan. 9, 2013, more than 40 states experienced widespread flu infection.
Right now, it’s handy for public health officials to know about Web apps that can help citizens deal with the flu if their areas are hit. Earlier this month, Emergency Management magazine reported on four online tools that track the flu, and Government Technology reviewed two of them, Google Flu Trends and Flu Near You, and how they educate citizens about influenza and its spread.
Users visit the Google Flu Trends Web application to see a map of Google’s estimates on what areas of the world have the most flu sufferers. Google’s engineers theorize that flu sufferers are many of the same people who search for flu-related terms on Google. Consequently, Google staff estimate where the flu strikes strongest by taking the company’s own internal data on searches for flu terms and comparing it with official flu symptom data from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu Near You allows users to fill out an online form about their flu symptoms, and the results populate an interactive map on the homepage. The data requested includes symptoms experienced and whether the user has been vaccinated yet. The website also discloses how many people in each state filled out the form, and users can see where local vaccination centers are. The site was created by a collaboration between Boston Children’s Hospital, the Skoll Global Health Fund and the American Public Health Association.