The recent outbreak of swine flu has kept the US Center for Disease Control on their toes posting updates to twitter. Even Google is helping out with tracking the spread of the flu. Sites like http://www.healthmap.org can track health concerns throughout the world and pinpoint geographical locations of events using google maps API.
However, a recent article by HealthCare IT News suggest that there is yet another trend in search that can be analyzed and harnessed for the good of all.
Google queries, officials said, can be counted more quickly. They compared their aggregated queries against data provided by the CDC and found there is a close relationship between the frequency of the search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week.
This indicates that local search trends can be linked to the focus and location of outbreaks. Since this data is readily available in almost real-time, it may benefit the CDC to closely monitor key terms and geographical locations where these terms are being searched from. This may lead them to find an area of potential outbreak prior to it being reported via traditional channels (hospitals and doctors reporting to the CDC).
While this seems fascinating and has the potential to deliver important information in a preemptive manner, there is also a little bit of a “Sci-Fi” alarming side to this information. Imagine a whole city being quarantined because thousands of searches for a deadly virus are done in a small time frame. Anyone remember the movie “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman from 1995. Imagine if they had google local search back then…
Published On: Apr 27, 2009