Archive for July 23rd, 2009

Swine Flu And Google Flu Trends

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Last year, we wrote a blog post about Google Flu Trends - an innovative use of Google trends aimed to function as an early warning mechanism for the spread of flu. Now, over six months on, a swine flu pandemic has officially been announced and it is a perfect time to have another look at the Flu Trends data.

Looking at this data, we can see that searches for flu related terms are particularly high in Australia and New Zealand. Of course, this comes as no surprise as it is Winter in the southern hemisphere and flu levels are always at their highest this time of year. There is also data for the United States as well as Mexico, which was only recently added specifically as a consequence of the Swine Flu pandemic.

What interests me is that the search levels are nowhere near as high as I had anticipated. Although New Zealand seems a touch higher than average, none of the other graphs show anything out of the ordinary. There are a couple of conclusions that can be made from this. Firstly, perhaps Google’s Flu trends is a poor indicator of rising flu levels. Secondly, perhaps despite the media hype, the total number of flu cases is not disproportionately high. Take a look at the data from Google Flu Trends and see what the data suggests to you. It may be that as the flu spreads and cases continue to rise, the discrepancies in the data will become much more pronounced.