UW-Madison will track flu using social mediaThe University of Wisconsin-Madison wants to see if it can track flu better by using social media.
By: Shamane Mills, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The University of Wisconsin-Madison wants to see if it can track flu better by using social media.
People can catch the flu almost anywhere – on campus, an outbreak can spread quickly because students often live in close quarters. Ajay Sethi, an associate professor with UW-Madison's Department of Population Health Sciences, is going to track illness with a smartphone application called OutSmart Flu where sick people report symptoms.
Any symptoms that match those of the flu will be included in a tally. Those numbers will be compared to the number of flu sufferers who seek medical care at the campus health clinic – the traditional way flu is tracked, Sethi says, with medical centers around the country reporting cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The current method relies on counting the number of people who walk into these doors seeking help for flu-like illness,” says Sethi. “The issue is, though, people will often search their symptoms online for health advice before getting health care.”
A 2010 study published in Nature found that analyzing website activity about the flu accurately predicted epidemics before standard methods. The UW experiment will see if that's true. Sethi hopes to get 6,000 people to participate.