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Google Flu Trends - Dr. Google Beats CDC

Google Flu Trends uses an aggregate of our millions of flu-related searches to estimate flu activity - and they're about two weeks ahead of the best Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates. Dr. Google does it again.

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for "flu" is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discovered that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

Science fiction writers have been fascinated by the prospect of intelligent machines helping us with our physical ills - from E.M. Forster's telemedicine apparatus in The Machine Stops (1909) to Isaac Asimov's robot surgeon in The Bicentennial Man (1976).

Google Flu Trends has been written up for publication in Nature. Next up: iVaccines from your laptop?

From Google Flu Trends via MedGadget.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/12/2008)

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