Over the past several days, there have been an increasing number of stories about this year’s flu season (2012-2013 flu season) being one of the worst in several years (Huffington Post, Boston Herald, NY Post). There are even stories of schools closing down for a day because of high absenteeism because of illness (Oklahoma, Minnesota) Starting in 2003, Google began tracking search terms because there was a correlation between words people were searching for and the intensity of the flu season. As a result, the site http://www.google.org/flutrends/ was created. One of the best items with this site though is that Google allows users to download data (CSV) for analysis. As a result, the following maps were created to depict the strength of this year’s flu season in comparison to previous years. As you can see, the 2003-2004 (H3N2) season and the 2009-2010 (H1N1) season are the worst seasons according to Google flu trends data since 2003 when the information was first tracked.
Additionally, the Google flu trends data is tracked and updated daily, while the data from state health organizations and the CDC is usually 1-2 weeks behind the actual occurrences. This is for a number of reasons (onset of symptoms vs seeking treatment, delay in reporting, etc), but the Google trends charts are very similar to the charts disseminated by the CDC. With this in mind, expect a surge in stories from states and localities beginning to implement health emergency plans for extremely high levels of flu activity.