Google claims to knows about flu outbreaks two weeks before the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) — really.
It’s an amazingly simple, yet elegant solution. Aggregating their vast database of user searches, Google has determined that they can predict and report on a flu outbreak up to two weeks before the CDC, merely by watching for an increase in flu related searches.
According to the Website google.org/flutrends, “We’ve found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity in your state up to two weeks faster than traditional flu surveillance systems.”
Check it out — especially the demo in the “How does this work” section — it’s quite interesting. Last year during the flu season, Google consistently reported on flu trends two weeks before the CDC, including an outbreak on January 28, 2008. In the final analysis, there was an amazing correlation between Google’s numbers and the CDC — just that Google was two-weeks ahead of the CDC in announcing their data.
By the way, at this point in the flu season, most flu activity is in the Eastern part of the United States and overall levels are similar to past years.