Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tech Talk

Google Flu Trends
It's getting cold here in Chicago which means two things are right around the corner: winter and flu season. But what if we could predict outbreaks of the flu? Think of what you could do with that information: avoid traveling there during that timeframe; reroute medicine to those areas; plan on having hospitals at full staffing; maybe even plan your sick days.

Crazy tech talk, right? Well, not really. It seems that Google has come up with such a tool: Google Flu Trends. This clever tool aggregates the terms used in searches to track outbreaks of the flu and seemingly can spot disease trends up to 2 weeks before the Centers for Disease Control data can.

Here's an explanation from the New York Times:

What if Google knew before anyone else that a fast-spreading flu outbreak was putting you at heightened risk of getting sick? And what if it could alert you, your doctor and your local public health officials before the muscle aches and chills kicked in? That, in essence, is the promise of Google Flu Trends, a new Web tool... unveiled on Tuesday, right at the start of flu season in the US. Google Flu Trends is based on the simple idea that people who are feeling sick will tend to turn to the Web for information, typing things like 'flu symptoms; or 'muscle aches' into Google. The service tracks such queries and charts their ebb and flow, broken down by regions and states."

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