Google Flu Trends can predict outbreaks through social media


There are a few things about me I don’t mention to people I meet. But I graduated as a dental assistant when I was in high school. During clinicals, I worked as a dental assistant to University of Florida dental students in a clinic for those who were underserved or didn’t have dental insurance.

This is what started my interest in public health. I was really interested in epidemiology, which are the people who track down the source of an outbreak and how to contain it from spreading. So when I found out that Google Flu Trends even existed, I was astounded.

Google Flu Trends is a project developed to monitor disease activity based on queries from Google users for subjects such as “muscle aches” and “thermometer.” This helps get results similar to the ones which the Centers for Disease Control gets, but up to a week earlier. It is still in its early stages, but it has proved to be very useful so far.

Now how does this pertain to me as a journalist? This is a great site to get the latest news of a possible flu outbreak. When there is an outbreak, updates are constantly being made, reporting the next person who was affected or what country is deeply affected or most likely to face an outbreak.

And what makes it even more interesting is that social media updates the trends. Even though there are a lot of areas that don’t have the proper resources to fight an outbreak, people still manage to have a cellphone, which gives them access to social media or the Internet. Looking through the Google Flu Trends, a journalist can see which country is at high risk and even go as specific as to what city is at higher risk. If a journalist were doing an investigative piece, they would be able to download data and make a graph out of it.

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