Still Think Google is Mostly a Search Engine?

The next time people in your family use Google to look for personal health information, they may be contributing to scientific research.

Google search data is beginning to be used to learn more about the flu. In fact, it’s beginning to look like Google Flu Trends (GFT), which keeps track of searches that inquire about influenza symptoms, may be faster and more effective than the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) surveillance network when it comes to predicting where the flu will become most prevalent. To learn more read this Google Flu Trends FAQ.

The above CDC map illustrates the actual cases diagnosed every week around the United States. Use the Google map below to visit GFT and watch an animated graph that demonstrates how collected searches for information about influenza led and anticipated the CDC medical diagnosis in the years 2007 and 2008.

Click on this graph to visit the animated version at Google.

According to a January 8, 2012, journal article, Google Flu Trends: Correlation With Emergency Department Influenza Rates and Crowding Metrics (abstract), in Clinical Infectious Diseases, “GFT provides near-real-time surveillance data 7-10 days before the CDC’s…” Over 21 months, the investigators were examining whether GFT data might help hospital emergency departments to prepare earlier for flu epidemics.

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