Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Flu Trends

I just discovered a wonderful new tool from, Google Flu Trends. is the philanthropic branch of Google. Flu Trends gives you real-time data on flu incidence in your U.S. state, as well as for the country as a whole. Here's how it works:
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.

Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer.
Google's data match up well with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on flu incidence, but are available 1-2 weeks before CDC data. Here's a comparison of Flu Trends and CDC data for previous years. Plus, Google makes the information easily accessible and user-friendly.

I think this a fantastic use of the massive amount of raw information on the internet. It's amazing what a person can do with a brain and an internet connection these days.


Unknown said...

Now that we have the tools to collect such valuable information hopefully it could be put to good use. By being able to map such problems in realtime we should be able to more accurately foresee various problems and hopefully allocate resources more intelligently.

Unknown said...

On the hand, it's a technology that can potentially be used for more cynical purposes such as target marketing, price gouging and bio-weapons research.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Yeah, that much data gives them a lot of power. I have to admit, a lot of my life is in their hands. But they haven't abused it yet (that I know of), and I can only hope they don't. At this point, the risk is worth the great services they provide.

Anna said...

Something just occurred to me, making me wonder about accuracy in the google data.

How many of those people looking for online info on the "'flu" really are likely to have bona fide influenza or be looking on behalf on someone with real influenza? I know lots of people who claim to get the flu when they are sick during "cold and flu season", but it's really a bad cold or GI bug that keeps them home in bed for a few days, not true influenza.

I'm under the impression that real influenza is quite virulent and make one very, very sick, to the point of needing medical care. Is that right?

I've not ever had influenza, nor, to my knowledge, has anyone in my family, though of course, we've had common colds and GI bugs, though not so many in the past few years and more mild when we do get them.

Am I correct in assuming that the CDC tracking data is confirmed influenza cases reported from physicians' offices and local public health agencies?

Stephan Guyenet said...


It's a good point, but all I can say is their data match up with the CDC data, which are reported by physicians.

Ed said...

Off topic -- but I can't figure out how else or where else to ask this -- if I wanted to test some fatty meat, and raw whole milk, that I bought at the farmer's market for omega-3 & omega-6 content, how do I do that? Any tips, ideas, pointers from anyone?


Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Ed,

I don't know, sorry.

TedHutchinson said...

Use of Vitamin D in Clinical Practice
has an interesting graph on page 7 showing Cold and Flu incidence following the use of 2000iu daily D3 supplementation.
However, Aloia, who did that research in Mineola does point out in later research,
(Vitamin D intake to attain a desired serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration.)
that a dose of 3800 IU for those above a 25(OH)D threshold of 55 nmol/L and a dose of 5000 IU for those below that threshold may be needed.
UK average status is 50nmol/l through the year and I have found 5000iu/daily is insufficient to keep my status above 120nmol/l so have had to increase to 7000iu/daily.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the information.