Last year, a test showed that Google could pinpoint flu outbreaks up to two weeks faster than the CDC's tracking by using search terms. Now Google.org (Google's philanthropic branch) is actively working with the CDC to try to catch them in near real time.
The project works by keeping track of where flu-related searches like "thermometer" and "cold remedies" are peaking. When they start increasing rapidly, it may mean that there is a flu outbreak getting started, and people are trying to find out more about their illness.
The best way to control a flu outbreak, and especially to avoid unnecessary deaths, is to get vaccines to people at risk near the outbreak. The faster an outbreak can be discovered and pinpointed, the better; so if Google's "FluTrends" continues to work, it could help control any outbreaks much more quickly.
To learn more about FluTrends:
- read this San Francisco Chronicle piece