Google Uses Search Terms to Predict Flu Activity

Nov 12, 2008

In Google Flu Trends, Google uses related searches to predict flu activity in your area “up to two weeks faster than traditional flu surveillance systems.” The above graph shows query-based flu estimates compared against flu data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discovered that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

[Thanks, Iman]

1 Comment

  • Interesting, but not surprising. I wonder how many other things could be regionally-tracked using Google data. Probably quite a lot of things could be analyzed, such economic data and demographics.

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