Letter

Nature 457, 1012-1014 (19 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07634; Received 14 August 2008; Accepted 13 November 2008; Published online 19 November 2008; Corrected 19 February 2009

Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data

Jeremy Ginsberg1, Matthew H. Mohebbi1, Rajan S. Patel1, Lynnette Brammer2, Mark S. Smolinski1 & Larry Brilliant1

  1. Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, California 94043, USA
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA

Correspondence to: Matthew H. Mohebbi1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.G. or M.H.M. (Email: flutrends-support@google.com).

Seasonal influenza epidemics are a major public health concern, causing tens of millions of respiratory illnesses and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year1. In addition to seasonal influenza, a new strain of influenza virus against which no previous immunity exists and that demonstrates human-to-human transmission could result in a pandemic with millions of fatalities2. Early detection of disease activity, when followed by a rapid response, can reduce the impact of both seasonal and pandemic influenza3, 4. One way to improve early detection is to monitor health-seeking behaviour in the form of queries to online search engines, which are submitted by millions of users around the world each day. Here we present a method of analysing large numbers of Google search queries to track influenza-like illness in a population. Because the relative frequency of certain queries is highly correlated with the percentage of physician visits in which a patient presents with influenza-like symptoms, we can accurately estimate the current level of weekly influenza activity in each region of the United States, with a reporting lag of about one day. This approach may make it possible to use search queries to detect influenza epidemics in areas with a large population of web search users.

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.

REVIEWS

Politics, media and microbiologists

Nature Reviews Microbiology Perspective (01 Mar 2004)

Defining infections in international travellers through the GeoSentinel surveillance network

Nature Reviews Microbiology Perspective (01 Dec 2009)

See all 3 matches for Reviews

RESEARCH

Surrogate Endpoints for the Treatment of Venous Leg Ulcers

Journal of Investigative Dermatology Original Article

Structural and functional bases for broad-spectrum neutralization of avian and human influenza A viruses

Nature Structural & Molecular Biology Article (01 Mar 2009)

Defining Outbreak: Breaking Out of Confusion

Journal of Public Health Policy Article Response