Is the Flu Near You? Report it!

Nov 11, 2011, 7:31 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

A health professional gives a flu shot to a woman. A boy stands in the background.

APHA's Get Ready campaign is partnering with HealthMap and the Skoll Global Threats Fund to help track flu cases with a new online tracking tool, Flu Near You. People can report their flu symptoms (or lack thereof) each week using the tracking tool, which helps create a map of the flu’s spread in the U.S.

Tools like these, according to APHA, are quickly emerging as a way for public health officials to keep track of infectious disease trends in as close to real time as possible. The information helps health departments ready stockpiles and helps hospitals prepare expanded capacity, if needed. Trends also help infectious disease specialists step in if disease patterns change.

Participants are asked to report their flu symptoms on a weekly basis, and APHA members who sign up record numbers of participants can earn prizes.

Visitors can also use the Flu Near You website to see what flu activity looks like in their area. In New York City, for example, there have been 49 user-generated reports since the start of the 2011 flu season—14 people reported being sick, and 35 reported feeling healthy.

Flu Near You follows on other recent efforts to take advantage of consumer-generated and other online data to track public health trends in the U.S., such as Google's Flu Trends, which research revealed to correlate fairly well with more traditionally-tracked flu surveillance data.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.