health care

I’m no sociologist…

…but I suspect Flash will find this very interesting:

Google Flu trends

But can search query trends provide an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

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.

This graph shows five years of query-based flu estimates for the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, compared against influenza surveillance data provided by CDC’s U.S. Influenza Sentinel Provider Surveillance Network. As you can see, estimates based on Google search queries about flu are very closely matched to a flu activity indicator used by CDC. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Our system is still very experimental, so anything is possible, but we’re hoping to see similar correlations in the coming year.

Google flu trends graph

-Briguy out


13 thoughts on “I’m no sociologist…

  1. I hadn’t looked at it in detail, but I was planning to check it out – the concept is certainly interesting. It’s definitely a good way to exploit predictable information-seeking behavior, and a rare use of theories of collective behavior.
    However, I’m not entirely convinced of its overall utility for the simple reason that the individuals most at risk from influenza – the elderly – are of a demographic that does not use the intertubes in large numbers. What you will have is a measure of Americans with sufficient income, required levels of infrastructure, and the level of literacy necessary to show up on the radar.
    I’ll reserve judgment until I examine further – Thanx, Briguy!


  2. I’ve worked for Health Canada Public Health Agency’s Immunization and Infectious Respiratory Diseases (IRID) branch doing some software a few years back and they had a study that showed that purchases of orange juice and Tylenol went up right before a flu outbreak.

    Monitory this kind of thing is actually part of their pandemic readiness programs…


  3. Every year as flu season approaches, the 24-hour news media hypes it up as their scare-du-jour to fill their schedules. Couldn’t the increase in searches be as much a result of media saturation?


  4. Good point, Kevvy. Upon reflection, I can see value in the methodology, but the repetition of the threat in the media may lead to people with simple colds to google for the symptoms. Just a thought.

    Now, on a more important note, does Google track how many people search for “Masturbation Club”?

    I mean, seriously, come on.:P


  5. All hail the ‘Kog!

    Oh, and while we’re at it…

    “Sexy Schoolgirls”

    “Big Naturals”

    “MILFS Gone Wild”

    And, just as an experiment:

    “Star Wars Porn”

    Stay tuned.


  6. Guys, guys, guys – you are *so* pre-Y2K….

    In a world of hentai and slashfic, the existance of ‘Star Wars Porn’ is not only likely, but damn near inevitable. There’s a adult video store that the bus route to get to my girlfriend’s house passes by, and they have a sign out with the ‘titles’ of the week – one week’s offering was ‘Dawg, the Booty Hunter’ – so if they’re making pornos out of A&E Reality Shows, you know no major motion picture is safe.


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