Big Data Helps Track The Flu

A string of new apps and websites that coalesce user data can help you avoid the flu altogether and help cities prepare for the worst. ->

If you're laid up in bed right now, nursing a cough, achy body and a funky stomach, you don't need me to tell you that flu season has arrived with a vengeance.

As one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory, things have gotten so bad in Beantown that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency. So far, 18 people have died and the city has experienced 700 reported case - 10 times as many reported cases as last year's flu season.

Flu shot or no flu shot, the rapid spread of the virus may have you feeling a bit helpless. However there are a string of new apps and websites coalescing user data that can help you avoid the flu altogether and help cities prepare for the worst.

Recently launched FluNearYou is a public safety project in collaboration with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. Anyone 13 years of age or older can register to complete a weekly survey of symptoms in effort that the shared data can help multiple sectors with pandemic preparedness. Data is made available to public health officials, researchers, disaster planning organizations and anyone else who may find this information useful.

Germ Tracker culls symptom data from social media platforms and tracks the virus, via a map, as it spreads. Upon publication of this post, the site was "experiencing heavy user traffic" and politely excused any potential delays.

Help, I Have the Flu, developed by pharmaceutical start-up Help Remedies, is an app that scans your friends' Facebook statuses for references to "sneezes," "coughs" or "flu." If someone in your network is sick, you'll receive an alert that lets you know you might want to avoid contact with them for a few days.

Google's Flu Trends tracker is another data heavy site that, besides showing a spike in flu related searches, also shows that a majority of the U.S. is experiencing intense activity in reported flu cases. The Center for Disease Control's (CDC) map shows similar "widespread" flu activity across the U.S.

Fortunately, the CDC shows the District of Columbia - where I live - as having a "local" level of severity, which is the lowest in the country. However, I haven't got my flu shot yet and I just got done nursing my girlfriend back from a 5-day flu, so I'm playing with fire. Here's hoping all those vitamins and immunity boosters I've been downing do their trick.

Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Image/Blend Images/Corbis