Web site launches 'flu tracker'

Wednesday, November 12th 2008, 10:57 pm
By: News 9

By Colleen Chen, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Many people are preparing for the flu season, including receiving the flu shot and researching the Internet for available information.

Google is now featuring a new tool which may be able to indicate when the flu will hit certain areas.

The Web has become a vital tool for those who begin to feel under the weather, as people turn to the computer before heading to the doctors office.

"They tend to call and say, ‘I got this. I looked it up on the Internet or they tend to scare themselves,'" said Dr. Mary Ann Bauman of Integris Health.

The self diagnosis may or may not be right, but when it comes to flu symptoms, Google searches seem to be a good way to monitor flu activity.

The data practically mirrors Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, except Google's results are two weeks faster.

"CDC data requires you get sick, visit the doctor, get tested, then have those tests reported," said Dr. Lyn Finelli, Chief of Flu Surveillance of the CDC.

Google Flu Trends was launched earlier this week to help the Centers for Disease Control.
Doctors said the early warning the system spits out, even if imperfect, is a good warning.

"It heightens our awareness as doctors to be doing testing," Finelli said.

For those worried about Google tracking personal information, officials said they collect data through IP addresses and can't pinpoint individuals. The data is reported by state.

"I suspect this could be used for other things as well in the future," Bauman said. "They will get better and better honing down the symptoms."

Google lists Oklahoma's flu activity as low.