Last night when I was suffering from the stomach flu, I searched Google using the desperate and relatively long tail key word phrase “how to stop throwing up.” Clearly I was in pretty bad shape, but somehow still thinking of my blog. I remembered an article I had read a while back that explained how the CDC, The Center for Disease Control in the US tracks social media for illness to determine outbreaks. My memory was correct in that the CDC not only tracks flu outbreaks via social media they have even launched a contest to encourage citizens to predict the 2013-2014 flu season. Here is the beginning of the press release from the CDC:
CDC Competition Encourages Use of Social Media to Predict Flu
November 25, 2013 — CDC has launched the “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge,” a competition designed to foster innovation in flu activity modeling and prediction. The registrant who most successfully predicts the timing, peak and intensity of the 2013-2014 flu season using social media data (e.g., Twitter, internet search data, web surveys) will receive an award of $75,000 and CDC recognition. Full details of the contest requirements – including eligibility rules, how to enter the contest, and scoring – are available via the official contest announcement at https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-28198.
Aside from the CDC there is an app called Sickweather that uses social media to track outbreaks of a variety of illnesses scanning Twitter and Facebook. The result is an interactive map showing the areas around the country for infections and other health issues. I thought this was interesting, but not particularly useful for me. I was quite aware that the stomach flu was going around. At least three kids in my child’s class had the flu and on Wednesday, my child got it. It was passed to me in spite of extra hand washing.
Unfortunately even knowing that the illness was present did not make it possible for me to avoid getting ill. The sickweather app might provide some interesting information, but can’t make up for the realities of parenthood. One area where it may be helpful is in cases of food poisoning. Sickweather could track names of restaurants that made people sick. However, publicly posting this information without clear evidence may have its own issues.
The amount of knowledge and potentially predictive behavior is fascinating, though my illness would not have shown up on Twitter or Facebook. Google likely has the stronger data set given that it includes search information and also social media.
Here is to avoiding illness and keeping up the fluids…