Internet Flu Searches May Warn of Outbreaks01/11/12
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Keeping an eye on
Internet search traffic about the flu can provide hospital
emergency departments with an early warning system about potential
surges in seasonal flu cases, a new study suggests.
This approach may be more effective than waiting for outdated
government flu case reports, the Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers
They tracked and reviewed Google Flu Trends data for Baltimore
and matched that with data on people seeking care for flu at the
Johns Hopkins Hospital between January 2009 and October 2010.
The 21-month study found a strong connection between a rise in
Internet searches for flu information and a subsequent increase in
the number of people with flu-like symptoms coming to the hospital
The findings show promise for eventually developing a standard
regional or national flu early warning system for emergency
department managers and staff, said study senior investigator Dr.
Richard Rothman, an emergency medicine physician and researcher at
the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a Hopkins news
The study was published in the Jan. 9 issue of the journal
Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Currently, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu
case reports issued between October and May are the main way that
emergency departments and other health care facilities and
providers track flu outbreaks.
However, these case reports are often weeks old by the time they
reach front-line health care workers. Google Flu Trends collects
and provides daily data on search traffic for flu information, and
examinations of this data can be narrowed to specific geographic
regions, time frames and other denominators.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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