Search engine giant Google launched a new tool on Tuesday that will help U.S. federal health experts track the annual flu epidemic.
Google Flu Trends uses search terms that people put into the Web-based search engine to figure out where influenza is heating up, and notify the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in real time.
“We’ve discovered that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity,” Google said in a statement.
“What this does is it takes Google search terms of influenza-like illness and influenza and it emulates a signal that tells us how much influenza activity there was,” Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at the CDC, said in a telephone interview.
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Studies indicate that between 35 and 40 percent of all visits to the Internet are begun by people looking for health information. When people are sick, they tend to look up their symptoms.
Google is keeping the search terms it uses private, but influenza-like illnesses include symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and cough. Sneezing usually occurs with other viruses such as rhinoviruses.
Currently, the CDC relies on centers that report on people coming to their doctors with flu-like symptoms, and lab tests that confirm whether a patient has influenza.