Google Flu Trends, a Web service provided by Google.org, has been updating itself with data and news stories about the swine flu pandemic. Social-networking tools such as Twitter have been blazing with members' posts about the possible spread of the disease. As of April 27, swine flu has killed 103 people in Mexico and spread to the United States, Europe and possibly other locations around the world.
has been tracking the spread of the new swine flu
site, a product of Google.org, has been updating itself with the
latest wire reports and provides a search window where people can type in their
ZIP code and locate the nearest flu-shot distributor.
Flu Trends also describes how it tracks outbreaks. "We've found that
there is a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related
topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms," reads an
explanation on the site. "Some search queries tend to be popular exactly
when flu season is happening, and are therefore good indicators of flu
activity. Our estimates, based on up-to-date aggregated Google search data, may
indicate flu activity up to two weeks ahead of traditional flu surveillance
However, the site still registers United
States flu activity as "low."
Areas of the country affected by the new strain of flu, particularly California
and Texas, are also noted as
having "low" activity. A graph on the site shows the level of
flu-related search activity on a week-by-week basis.
On Google Trends, flu-related topics have appeared on the rankings of
most-searched terms, including "swine flue" in sixth place,
"CDC.gov" at tenth and "swine flu site CDC.gov" at
Despite the amount of news being generated about the flu, the
level of recorded cases remains relatively modest.
This strain of influenza, known technically as swine influenza A (H1N1)
virus infection and popularly as "swine flu," has killed 103 people
in Mexico as of
April 27, with either suspected or confirmed cases appearing in the United
States, Europe, Australia
and New Zealand.
According to Reuters, symptoms of the disease include fever, muscle aches,
headaches, cough, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. The incubation period
for H1N1 is still being debated, but typical flu strains take one to two days to
begin manifesting symptoms.
The flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people per year, according to the
World Health Organization, although larger outbreaks such as the 1918 Spanish
flu pandemic have killed millions.
This particular pandemic, however, is the first to manifest itself during a
Web 2.0 era in which Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking tools have
combined with Google and other search engines to create
a "social Web" capable of providing up-to-the-minute information.
Some people have already taken matters into their own hands and started
using Google's collaborative tools to trace out the infection on Google Maps,
such as this one
, with color-coded pins representing both suspected
and confirmed cases of the swine flu. Pins that lack black dots in the center represent
As of 9:30 a.m. on April 27, that map had cases popping up in New Zealand,
New York, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and Denmark, in addition to Mexico
and the United States.
Throughout the weekend into Monday, Twitter, the social-networking site
whose members can post 140-character microblogs, or "tweets," burst
with chatter about swine flu, with postings alternating between hard
information, pre-emptive panic and sarcasm. "Swine Flu" has become
the most-searched term on the site, beating out "Pontiac" and
"Stock futures tumble on swine flu concerns," wrote one Twitterer.
"Swine flu seems to be the 'in' thing at the moment. I am a trend
follower, so does anybody know where I can get some?" joked another.
On a Web page
last updated April 27, the Centers for Disease Control had posted a chart
detailing the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of swine influenza A (H1N1)
virus infection, in addition to information on how to stay healthy.