Google introduces flu trend tracking system for South Africa

2010-06-29 00:00

INTERNET search engine giant Google has introduced the South African online community to a cyber system that keeps track of flu trends in a specific location.

Known as Google Flu Trends for South Africa, the system provides near real-time estimates of flu activity in a country and offers an early warning of new outbreaks, said Rishon Chimboza on behalf of Google SA.

Chimboza said the system will enable the government and ordinary citizens to track increases in flu activity.

Said Chimboza: “South Africa is the first African country to get this online search tool that was first launched in the U.S. in November 2008. We’ve aggregated billions of individual searches and compared our data with publicly available data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to come up with South African results.

“Google Flu Trends can estimate how many people have a flu-like illness and the level of flu activity at any given time.”

He said that, while traditional methods of flu tracking, like surveying doctors and patients, can take up to a week or two to collect and release data, Google search queries can provide an immediate, accurate reflection of flu activity in a given location.

The head of the epidemiology and surveillance unit at NICD, Dr Cheryl Cohen, said: “We are excited about the introduction of Google Flu Trends to South Africa. These current estimates of flu activity will provide an additional source of information for helping us understand the timing of the influenza season in South Africa. With so many visitors to our country for the World Cup, it’s especially important that we have as much and as timely flu data as possible.”

Google Flu Trends project manager Corrie Conrad said that the early detection of flu, which can kill up to hundreds of thousands of people a year, enables medical professionals to react quickly and to save lives.

The search tool estimates the state of flu in KwaZulu-Natal as being at low activity. Estimates range from minimal, low, moderate, high to intense.

South African flu activity can be viewed on www.youtube.com, by searching this heading: Flu Trends for South Africa.

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