Friday, December 19, 2008
Googling for flu may be good for you
Haven't we all done it? Felt sick, typed in our symptoms and searched online, attempting to diagnose ourselves before seeing the doctor?
As you might expect, more people search on flu-like symptoms and treatments during flu season than during the rest of the year. In fact, the wizards over at Google found a correlation between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. They then developed a Web tool that uses information from searches to estimate how many people have a flu-like illness. At Google Flu Trends, you can find the latest estimates on flu activity across the country.
Why would Google offer a flu tracking site when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already surveys doctors and patients to track the flu? It turns out that traditional flu monitoring systems take up to two weeks to collect and release information to the public. On the other hand, Google search queries (though not as scientific) can be automatically counted very quickly. During the last flu season, Google was able to estimate flu levels up to two weeks faster than CDC. Daily flu estimates can provide an early-warning system for flu outbreaks and help us take the necessary steps to protect ourselves.
Right now, the tool only monitors the flu in the United States, but Google hopes to eventually use it to help track flu and other diseases all over the world. So if you don't feel well, go right ahead and search the Web for your symptoms. Your query may just motivate someone else to protect themselves against the flu.
Query: Have you ever used the web to diagnose your symptoms?