How Big Data Helps Abate The Flu Epidemic

Boston and New York had recently declared a flu epidemic. In Beantown, there were about 700 reported cases wherein 18 people had already died. In order to keep things from being out of control, app developers and health officials turn to big data for help.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the organization primarily assigned to stop the flu epidemic, had taken steps to use massive data to understand the epidemic. Although doctors are banking on the flu vaccine as a weapon to keep the epidemic at bay, the problem is that there is not enough vaccine for everyone. Also, there are various flu strains that must be identified before a flu vaccine is identified to stop the epidemic.

According to CDC flu epidemiologist Lynetter Brammer, a flu study is required to pinpoint the strain of influenza currently affecting a certain locale so that the necessary flu vaccine can be used to stop its spread. An anti-viral resistance testing is also done to ensure that the flu vaccine can mitigate the effects of the flu. Influenza and pneumonia deaths are also tracked in order to learn if the flu epidemic is causing the increase in death rates. However, Brammer admits that even with the help of big data, the doctors can never completely stop influenza. The best that doctors can do is to stop the flu epidemic. In the end, Brammer hopes that better flu vaccines can be made in order to lessen the flu impact.

Flu Apps Launched Recently

In partnership with Skoll Global Threats Fund, the American Public Health Association had recently initiated FluNearYou, an application used to gather information about the development of flu symptoms. A person who is at least 13 years old can register at the site to monitor the development of symptoms. The weekly survey can help disaster planning organization, researchers, and public health officials to prepare for the flu epidemic. This data sharing application is helpful in predicting any future flu outbreaks.

Germ Tracker, another information gathering site, helps track the flu virus through a map. It is helpful in monitoring the spread of the virus in a certain area. The application makes use of social media to cull data. The only downside with this application is that it can be misused by neurotics who will use the social media to report non-existent flu cases. Help Remedies, a pharmaceutical startup, also recently introduced Help, I have the Flu application which scans Facebook statuses for words like “flu”, “coughs”, and “sneezes” so that persons within the community can be alerted in order to avoid contact with persons with flu symptoms.

Flu Trends, a flu tracker from Google, monitors the increase in flu-related searches and exhibits intense flu activities in various US states. A map from the Center for Disease Control also shows how extensive the flu epidemic is. FluView, on the other hand, is a tracking tool which receives and organizes the vast amount of data sent in by doctors, hospitals, and laboratories to the Center for Disease Control. It provides a clear picture of the spread of flu epidemic so that doctors can effectively stop the flu outbreak.

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