Google Flu Trends

By samooresamoore (1259349163|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

This Blog discusses one of Google's new products, Flu Trends, which tracks the flu epidemic around the world. I became interested in this tool because I had a very bad case of the flu this year and was interested in how this virus was effecting the rest of the world.

How It Works

Google Flu Trends tracks certain search queries that are believed to be directly correlated with the spread of the flu virus. This information is collected and used to estimate flu activity around the world. According to Google.org, Google has compared their estimate to those of "traditional flu surveillance systems" and have found their tracking to be quite accurate, which is evident by looking at the graph below.

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When you arrive at Google Flu Trends, there is a picture of the world in different colors. As you run your mouse over the world map a box pops up that tells you the flu activity in that country. The picture below shows what the world map on the homepage of Google Flu Trends looks like.

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The real fun begins once you click on a country. Since I live in the United States, I double clicked on the U.S.A. which took me to a screen with a larger picture of the United States and a graph above it that showed the frequency of the flu from July through November. According to this graph, this year the flu was at its peak in October and this month (November) has not been as bad. On the map of the United States each state is outlined and colored a shade of orange or red according to how high the frequency of the flu is right now. I thought this was very interesting because I could see what states were most affected by the flu. I was not surprised to discover that one of the two states in the midwest which has high flu activity at the moment is Michigan. During the last month, several different people I know have contracted to flu including myself.

If you click on a state, a graph will pop up above a picture of the state which shows how the frequency of the flu epidemic in that stated varied from July through November. I had a lot of fun clicking on different states and seeing when the flu was at its peak. By clicking on different states I discovered that the flu epidemic appears to be spreading north. For example, Texas and Louisiana had the most flu activity in August and September. Michigan had the highest flu activity in October, and in November Maine experienced the most flu activity. By just clicking on different states you can notice interesting trends.

By clicking on different countries on the homepage, a graph will appear that shows flu trends for that country. I was surprised to discover that Sweden experienced a very high number of cases of the flu in late August/early September and now again in November they experienced a large number of cases. When you look at the frequency chart for Sweden, which can be found here, there are two spikes on the graph. I wondered why this was the case since on the frequency chart for most countries there is only one large spike. Then I noticed that Norway, Sweden's neighbor, just experienced a large number of cases of the flu in the last month.

Evaluation of Tool

Personally, I had a lot of fun exploring Google Flu Trends, and would recommend you check it out. The site is very easy to navigate and its maps show a lot of relevant data. Google Flu Trends probably has the most up do date information on the flu in the world because they update the site on a daily basis. If you want information on the flu, check out Google Flu Trends.

(Actually, this is by Rachel Basaldua.)

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