Learn Google Flu Trends and CDC – Winter 2013

Flu is here and for the next couple of months so many of us will need to take precautions to prevent, if possible, getting sick. Your family will probably have a few conversations about the flu, so here are some data-rich public health websites to use as a part of the conversation with 21st Century learners.

Some influenza seasons are worse than others, and this year appears to be more severe than the last few flu seasons. But no matter what year it is, it’s doubly important to help children and everyone else in your family avoid influenza exposure as much as possible — and no one should get very far into the fall months without receiving a vaccination at a physician’s office, pharmacy, or local clinic.

google-trends

Google Flu Trends Data Map

Today I went to Google Flu Trends to learn where in the United States influenza is hitting the hardest, and right now this dynamic mapping site indicates that the flu is just about everywhere. Google collects its data by keeping track of internet searches for symptoms such as fever, headache, or sore muscles. The collected search statistics turn out to be good predictors of what parts of the country are experiencing influenza-like illnesses.

Right now, January 18, 2013, the Google flu map shows that the flu is widespread — almost every state in the U.S. is the same bright read color, indicating that lots of people are sick with the flu and searching to learn more. A user can click in each state to look at the influenza-related searches from there. Click on the map to visit Google Flu Trends to see what it looks like.

CDC influenza

CDC Data Map

The data depicted by Google Flu Trends often corresponds to, but is not a substitute for, the hard data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives when epidemiologists from around the country collect and submit  data about actual diagnosed influenza cases in their states. In tracing the course of an epidemic, epidemiologists and health officials need to collect the specifics about place and time of an illness as well as general characteristics of the people who are sick (age, gender, ethnicity, seriousness of illness, pre-existing health conditions, etc.).

At this time, Google Flu Trends, while predictive of case counts, does not provide public health officials enough detailed information. Look at the CDC Influenza Summary Update.

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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.

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