Crowd-sourced cold surveillance: This smartphone app may help better predict flu outbreaks

fluoutbreakapp3In some cases, the bacteria that accumulates on our the surface of our smartphones can make us sick. But now researchers from the University of Wisconsin are seeing if the inside of smartphones can actually prevent flu outbreaks.

UW-Madison professor Dr. Ajay Sethi and doctoral student Christine Muganda want to know if a smartphone app and social engagement can better predict a flu outbreak than the old-school method of clinic-based reporting.

Students on the UW campus are encouraged to download and use an app called OutSmart Flu. The app asks a few basic questions like, “how are you feeling,” and in exchange students can collect points toward a raffle drawing for their participation.

Using the survey, which was custom built by Seattle-based Survey Analytics, the researchers will have access to crowd-sourced data and they’ll be able to watch flu patterns as they happen in real time.

“Our app might encourage those on campus to be more aware of when the virus is going around, to encourage taking precautions like washing hands a little longer or making an extra effort to get the flu shot,” Dr. Sethi said in a press release.

Traditionally, the CDC has tracked flu outbreaks based on the number of patients walking into clinics with influenza-like symptoms. But the UW researchers point to a Google study that they claim identified epidemic flu in the U.S. a full two weeks before the CDC could.

However, without context, those Google studies based solely off data weren’t exactly better than what the CDC could report from actually seeing patients in person. It will be interesting to see if Sethi and Muganda find better success with OutSmart Flu, which is available on iOS and Android.

  • James Taylor

    Sickweather launched a flu/norovirus predictor (analyzing geo-relevant tweets and social mentions) last year that claims to have predicted last years flu outbreak weeks before CDC too. http://www.sickweather.com/ A little hard to actually doing anything actionable with it once you know unfortunately. Besides be better about hand-washing.