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Google tracks flu

Oana Lungescu, BBC News, Brussels

The internet search engine company Google has launched a new online tool to help track the spread of influenza in the United States. The company found that Americans falling ill searched for advice about flu online using its web facilities before they sought help from a doctor. Greg Morsbach reports:

How many times have you consulted an internet search engine when you're feeling ill before going to your doctor for help? Many of us do exactly that when we're feeling sick.

Now the internet search engine Google has come up with a tool designed to register search requests for common phrases such as "flu symptoms" or "muscles aches".

The idea is to map clusters of influenza in the United States in order to track the spread of the disease. There are also plans to roll out the system in other countries around the world.

The new web tracker known as "Google Flu Trends" could act as an early warning system for internet users: if there are a lot of flu cases in your area, then you could take preventative measures such as have a flu jab. Early tests of the new web tool show it can detect regional outbreaks up to ten days earlier than the US health authorities.

A senior health expert from the United Nations told the BBC, Google Flu Trends would have to prove its reliability over time. But he added it could be very useful in nations where health authorities don't have a reliable database of infectious diseases.
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