Google search data can provide an estimate of Influenza activity. People who are sick or think they might be tend to search more for “flu treatment” or “flu symptoms”.
The idea is that by monitoring millions of users’ behaviours online, the large number of Google search queries that are gathered can be analyzed to reveal the presence of flu-like illness in a population.
In the United States, researchers have found that Google search data could be used to predict regional outbreaks of flu up to 10 days before they were reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One such peer-reviewed reportexternal link, from a team of Harvard researchers, combines it with other data sets to more accurately track flu outbreaks.
It is a good example of discoveries that can be made with “big data”, a term used to describe the analysis of massive amount of data to reveal trends.
However, we cannot discard the possibility that the recent peak in search for the word flu on Google is also due to avian flu cases.
The Swiss Federal Office of Public Healthexternal link reported that during the last week of 2016, flu was widespread in Switzerland with 64 declared cases per 100,000 inhabitants. It largely exceeds the number of cases for the same week in 2014 and in 2015.