Tracking the spread of influenza

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Alla Zabrovskaya, Director of Public Relations, Google in Russia

Every year, the flu kills hundreds of thousands of people, and millions suffer from it. Early detection of the epidemic allows doctors to quickly respond to the situation and save lives. A few years ago, a group of Google engineers began working on aggregated query models, which can mirror world trends and show what is happening around us. They also thought about whether these models would be able to tell us, for example, about the development or reduction of influenza activity in a particular country over a period of time. Google Flu Trends

Service   - Influenza spread statistics - was first launched in the United States in November 2008, and has established itself as a useful tool for assessing the degree of influenza activity in a particular country in real time. The ability to monitor the dynamics of the epidemic has proven useful for healthcare organizations, doctors and ordinary users. Today we announce the launch of this service in 16 countries, and we hope that it will help healthcare institutions to predict new outbreaks of disease and fight epidemics. Google Flu Trends uses a model based on a long history of queries made and compares them with data provided by the  European Center for Disease Prevention and Control .

In Russia, the Google Flu Trends service is available in an experimental version. Despite the fact that at the moment the data were not supported by official statistics, we present an early version of the product and hope that it will serve as an additional source of information.

Many healthcare organizations today use medical surveillance to track epidemics. A logical question may arise - why do we need estimates for combined search queries? Traditional surveillance methods are extremely important, but most health facilities focus on one country or region and update the results only once a week, and sometimes less often. Currently, Google Flu Trends covers a wide range of countries and is updated every day, which can be a good addition to existing surveillance methods.

For epidemiologists, this is a convenient way to detect outbreaks early, which will reduce the number of cases. If, under certain conditions, a new strain of influenza virus arises, there is a likelihood of a pandemic with millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in  1918 ). Our influenza spread data allows healthcare providers and healthcare providers to respond to seasonal epidemics and pandemics in a timely manner.

Aggregation of billions of requests, starting in 2003, allowed us to create such a workable model. This is a great example of the beneficial use of aggregated anonymous data. Search query statistics can be a source of valuable information on trends in the economy, healthcare, and other areas. We have a tool Google search statistics , which allows you to track the level of popularity of a particular request - at different intervals and in different regions. Thus, one can get an “inside look” at different areas of public interest. In the future, we want to offer other ways to use this data for the common good.

The sheer volume of user queries provides an unprecedented picture of the world around us. John Battelle expressed the idea that, in aggregate form, user requests are “a symbol of humanity’s intentions.” He argued that this database is capable of reflecting the needs and desires of people. Google Flu Trends is one example of how search queries can not only reflect what is happening in the world, but also become an assistant in the fight against global problems.

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