Google can predict flu epidemic

Posted on February 25, 2013


Experts in the health industry are looking at Google with renewed interest as the search engine seems to be able to accurately predict an epidemic, the latest being influenza. The search engine looks at what is typed by users and from the word ‘fever’ may deduct that there is an outbreak of flu, which could also have an impact on the way medicine is marketed. The US has experienced a flu outbreak since December, which now seems to have moved to Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute, the authority for disease and control and prevention in Germany, the cases of influenza there have continued to rise.

Researchers at RKI use data collected from 700 doctors in Germany, using the data to study the diseases and improve vaccinations available. After a few days, the information is published. Google has created a site for the project, looking at search terms used and presents the information collated using a graph on the site. Search engine users receive a daily update on outbreaks of flu. Martin Memmel from the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence says:

“For me, the project is absolutely successful. This is a classical exploitation of collective intelligence and an epidemic could possibly be predicted a week earlier.”

A model was created by employees of Google to launch the “flu trend” project. Using searches of the word “flu”, Google could supply numbers of flu cases in the US, Japan, Canada and Europe. The project may have implications for the marketing and search engine optimisation campaigns for pharmacies and drug companies. If the data indicates that a outbreak is occuring in a particular area, having local SEO as part of your marketing may mean that adverts for remedies could be targeted to those living there.

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