Tests of the new Web tool from Google.org, the company’s philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The data that Google is collecting may not be that accurate. According to Google, Arkansas is experiencing a moderate flu outbreak. However, the Arkansas Health Department says that there hasn't been one confirmed case of flu.
Dr. Sandra Snow, medical director of communicable diseases, and Dr. Haytham Safi, senior epidemiologist, both of the Health Department, said the recent mass flu vaccination effort in Arkansas could be behind the high number of flu searches from Arkansas on Google. "We just finished doing our mass clinic, with over 108,000 people getting the flu vaccine. It's very possible that while we were doing this, people were looking up (sites related to the) flu on Google" Snow said.
They were offering flu shots everywhere. There was a lot of publicity to get people to get a shot. My employer gave us free shots and I even saw that Sam's Club was offering shots for $20. All that publicity generated people's interest so they Googled for more information. Google's new tool registered interest in the flu because of publicity not because people were feeling the symptoms. At least the Arkansas Health Department did note the trend and were able to explain it. It would be interesting to see if the Google tool will be able to identify a real flu outbreak.