Google is mapping outbreaks of the swine flu, one of the many ways that the company is organizing all the world’s information. Google already has a well-known service that tracks searches for flu symptoms that helps public health officials predict where outbreaks of the normal influenza virus will occur.
At last count, the swine flu has killed 81 people in Mexico and infected at least 20 in the United States, with no fatalities to this point. The federal government has also declared a public emergency and recommended planning for school closures. The possible pandemic has even impacted the White House directly because President Obama met with renown archaeologist Felipe Solis, who has since died of swine flu-like symptoms, during his visit to Mexico last week; officials said Obama tested negative for the swine flu.
The recent outbreak is not reflected in Google’s traditional flu tracking chart because it is still statistically insignificant, but during flu season the service has proved itself as much as two weeks faster than the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in identifying potential flu outbreaks. While the CDC tracks information provided by health care providers, Google tracks Web searches for words pertaining to the flu and
“a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the [CDC] and found that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States… By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza.“
Google gets a lot of grief for failing to live up to its creed to “do no evil,” but if you really want to see the face of evil, check out this article on the techniques used by Smithfield Farms in raising (or torturing) pigs. By the way, that’s not a gratuitous dig at the pernicious techniques used by Smithfield Farms (for which they received one of the largest fines ever handed down by the EPA); a Mexican subsidiary of Smithfield Farms has been linked to the recent swine flu epidemic.