(RxWiki News) Next time you feel like you're coming down with the flu while you're sitting at your computer, you might want to click over to a website called Flu Near You before you head to the doctor's.
Flunearyou.org is a recently launched website that maps user contributed data on a national map to track flu. When you sign up for the website, you'll get a weekly email survey that asks you if you've 1) had a flu shot and 2) if you've experienced any of ten flu symptoms.
The hope is to engage people in public health and to create a more accurate way to monitor flu trends across the country.
"Log on to flunearyou.org to participate."
Flu Near You is a partnership between Healthmap of Boston Children's Hospital, Skoll Global Threats Fund and the American Public Health Association. It launched in October of last year.
You can see the map now at flunearyou.org. It's dotted with virtual pins representing where users have contributed answers to the survey questions.
The map also shows flu data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, and Google Flu Trends, which uses information from Google searches to estimate flu levels across the country.
Dr. Mark Smolinski and Dr. Larry Brilliant were involved in the creation of Google Flu Trends, and are now working on Flu Near You. Google Flu Trends has proved to be surprisingly accurate, and can estimate flu in advance of the CDC's reports.
But Dr. Smolinski and Dr. Brilliant wanted a flu tracker that was more participatory, as they explain in a video posted on flunearyou.org. Having users contribute their own data engages them with their own health experiences, and it also addresses the problem that flu is notoriously underreported.
In other words, many people wait out their sickness at home, never getting to the doctor who turns in information to the CDC about how many people have showed up with flu-like symptoms in his office. The founders of Flu Near You are betting that more people will take the time to answer a quick survey than visit the doctor, contributing to a more accurate estimate of flu around the country.
Of course, accuracy depends on getting enough people to participate in the website. So far, they've collected information from around 50,000 people.
The ambitions for Flu Near You go beyond flu, Dr. Smolinski explained in an article for takepart.com.
He wrote, “If it’s effective, Flu Near You will help us better understand how flu spreads and, importantly, engage the public directly in combating this yearly plague. But Flu Near You as a proof of concept is equally important. If people are willing to report symptoms on a regular basis, we can expand beyond flu to other diseases.”
Anyone over the age of 13 can participate. Sign up at flunearyou.org.