Google has mapped flu activity since 2006, and this year is the worst on record for the U.S., depicting an intense flu season for the majority of states. After finding that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity, Google Flu Trends was created using aggregated Google search data to estimate current flu activity around the world in near real-time.
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 are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many 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 different countries and regions around the world.
By exploring flu trends in the U.S., you can see the estimate for how different states and cities have been affected in recent months. Most are dark red, indicating “intense” flu activity, while others are a lighter red, which means they are classified as “high.” From the map it looks as though the west coast is faring slightly better than central and eastern areas. For a less scientific approach and a little fun, try the Help I Have A Flu app instead.