People with better than average web searching ability are said to have “GoogleFu”, which is not to be confused with their latest creation, which I call GoogleFlu, and they named Flu Trends.


They say it’ll allow users to find out where the flu is faster than the CDC maps, which is both true (faster than the CDC maps), and a little misleading: they’re not actually tracking the flu.

What they are tracking are keywords (via WSJ Health):

for instance "cough," or "fever." It displays the results on a map of the U.S. and shows a chart of changes in flu activity around the country. The data is meaningful because the Google arm that created Flu Trends found a strong correlation between the number of Internet searches related to the flu and the number of people reporting flu symptoms.

So, they’re not tracking flu cases, they’re using keywords with a demonstrated correlation to draw a map.  So, this will not be specific to influenza, but would also show where people are searching about their cold symptoms.

It bears watching, but remember it’s not counting actual flu cases like the CDC.


  1. Freddy Hill says:

    No, of course it is not tracking flu cases. It is tracking interest in influenza. The number of queries would be expected to raise as flu season starts and flu magic potions start to get advertised on TV, for example, or when people drive around and see a billboard for flu vaccination at their corner supermarket.

    But in addition to all of this, peaks in interest may pop from the background noise. Apparently some of these peaks are said to lead actual peaks in flu cases by 8 days or so. See the NYT article for example. It may be a bit like predicting earthquakes by observing the behavior of your chickens: not a exact science, but it may prove beneficial in the geographical allocation of resources, or as an early heads-up for health professionals. That’s for professionals like you to evaluate, GruntDoc. I myself, as a layman, plan to very conscienciously avoid looking at it.

    On the other hand, I may set up a google query frequency report on the query “What is Ebola?,” then run for the hills if it ever shows a significant peak.

  2. I’d rather stick with the CDC reports. Anyone who has been blogging for more than a month knows about the unusual search phrases that occasionally bring traffic into your website.