US Flu Cases Head Off the Scale

24 09 2009

In April when the media went into overdrive about swine flu, I posted that there was scant evidence that the pandemic had taken hold in the US.  The situation was unclear but there was evidence that the media frenzy had actually got ahead of the spread of the H1N1 virus.

Pandemic back on the map

I had placed my trust in ‘Google Flu Trends’.  Google has found that certain search terms are indicators of the early stages of flu.  They use aggregated search data to estimate the incidence of flu cases.  The results provide information around two weeks faster than traditional systems because neither the sufferers nor the medical practitioners have to report the data – it’s instantaneous.

Texas flu trendFlu cases head upwards

As the chart above show the search terms started to lurch upwards three weeks ago and the latest data suggests that in Texas, where the results are highest,  in the past week enquiries were nearly 10x normal levels for the time of year.  The heat map for the whole of the US shows a 397% increase on normal levels.  If Google is right then the official channels should be getting the data about now.  Media alerts won’t be far behind.    

H1N1 set to rise in UK  

Google flu trends doesn’t extend to the UK, but evidence in April suggested that the UK was exposed early in the cycle and we are entering the high risk autumn/winter period.  Anecdotal and sporadic reports from schools and colleges suggest a high current level of absenteeism.  It looks like the pandemic will be right back on the media agenda soon, but this time with much more substance.

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