In addition to predicting outbreaks of malaria and meningitis through Google.org, it turns out the google search engine itself is quite the predictor of flu outbreaks. According to the New York Times, people type phrases such as “flu symptoms” into a search engine long before visiting a doctor, enabling google to identify flu outbreaks before cases are even reported even to the CDC.
For example, Google’s search data showed a spike in queries about flu symptoms two weeks before the CDC reported that flu cases had spiked in mid-Atlantic states in early February. Unlike google, the CDC relies on data collected and compiled from health care providers, labs and other sources.
Public health experts hope that Google’s accelerated recognition of an outbreak can help accelerate the response of doctors and other health care providers, reducing the spread of the disease and, hopefully, saving lives.
The service covers only the United States, but Google is hoping to eventually use the same technique to help track influenza and other diseases worldwide.
Check out google’s new flu tracking service here.