Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tracking flu with Google tool

CBC News reported that according to an expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an internet search tool could be helpful in tracking the spread of influenza cases in the U.S. and act as an early warning of an outbreak.Google Flu Trends will analyze patterns based on how often people search for flu-related terms and plot their locations in near real time, the company said.

Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said that "one thing we found last year when we validated this model is it tended to predict surveillance data."

The early warning could help hospitals prepare for a surge in patients during flu season, as well as track flu activity in case of a pandemic.

Results from the free, web-based method will be shared with the CDC, but individual user data will be kept confidential, Google software engineers Jeremy Ginsberg and Matt Mohebbi said in the company's blog.

Google Flu Trends is currently available in the U.S. only, although the company said it hopes to include other countries and diseases.

Google's mapping tool, Google Earth, is already used to track outbreaks of avian flu.