US: Google search engine’s philanthropic arm, google.org, launched a software-based disease alert system which maps flu trend across the globe. This mapping information is based on searches, containing the keyword ‘flu’ in the search engine.
According to a BBC report, there are several such mapping endeavours. By gathering aggregate data from millions of people or by scouring the web for online news reports, blogs and chat room postings, these programmes are considered to be excellent indicators of disease levels across the globe.
“We’ve found what people search for are actually very good indicators of influenza in a population,” Google Flu Trends spokeswoman Corrie Conrad said. “We have flu estimates for 28 countries and accuracy will vary depending on each country. But in the US when compared with the official data from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), we found we were over 90 percent accurate,” Conrad added. In addition, she said, “It can take one to two weeks for the CDC to collect data from the different doctors across the country that are part of their system but search data is updated automatically every day.”
Other systems, which include the Global Public Health Intelligence Network and HealthMap, employ a different method.
“We are essentially a web crawling tool very similar to Google in that we are scouring the web through tens of thousands of websites, every hour looking for specific clues about infectious diseases,” explained HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein. “Once we find those articles about an outbreak, we organise that information and put it on a map available to our users.”
While both systems search the web for news, HealthMap also employs a “citizen reporting” scheme which allows the public to report events through iPhone and Google Android apps.