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Flu Forecasting

December 17, 2012

Flu forecasts may soon become a news staple.



Forecasting the flu.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Soon, you may be able to check a flu forecast along with the weather report. This according to environmental health scientist Jeffrey Shaman, ofColumbiaUniversity’s Mailman School of Public Health. His team used data from Google Flu Trends, a tracker of flu-related web searches that’s a surprisingly good indicator of actual cases. By combining weather forecasting techniques and models of flu transmission, they could predict the course of an outbreak.

JEFFREY SHAMAN (Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health):
So the specific details of the where and when, when it’s going to peak, how many cases there may be, what’s the duration of the outbreak, and what’s the total number of cases going to be.

They tested it on flu patterns from 2003 through 2008. Shaman says the forecasts could be used not only to warn the public, but also to alert medical authorities for a potential flood of patients.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Flu shots can help protect against the flu. (Queens University Canada/Flickr)