On the TV news, newsreaders show outbreaks of diseases spreading on a map. Scientists also track outbreaks of diseases —and instead of going to hospitals to find out who is ill, they can now use search engines.
It turns out that a way to see how a disease is spreading is to look at what people search for on Google. People often search for their symptoms when they fall ill, so the researchers looked at how often words like ‘flu’, ‘headache’ and ‘high temperature’ were searched for. Their computer looked for any increase in their use. The numbers were then displayed and the locations plotted on a map, to show the changes in flu activity around the world.
This worked to predict the spread of flu in the USA. It meant doctors saw what was happening sooner, as they didn’t have to rely on hospital reports which come in later. This made it easier to give vaccines in time to slow down the spread of flu, stopping people getting ill in the first place.
Tell the doctor… you can use Google to spot a brewing flu outbreak