Google maps, Twitter, RSS feeds, Web sites track spread of flu

By Bernie Monegain
10:23 AM

Technology of varying types is making it possible to track new cases of swine flu in close to real time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization Web sites are posting up-to-the minute information about new cases and recommendations for the public and local and state officials on how to respond to the threat.

The CDC is tweeting updates at The CDC and WHO are also providing data via an RSS feed, and the CDC is also offering podcasts.

In Mexico, reports indicate that more than 80 people may have died of the flu.

According to the most recent posting on the WHO's Web site Monday morning, the United States has reported 20 laboratory-confirmed human cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 (eight in New York, seven in California, two in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio). All have had mild influenza-like illness, with only one requiring brief hospitalization. No deaths have been reported.

Google maps have pinpointed these cases as they are reported. Google announced last November it would employ its search engines to help the CDC track the flu.

Google queries, officials said, can be counted more quickly. They compared their aggregated queries against data provided by the CDC and found there is a close relationship between the frequency of the search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week.
HealthMap aggregates news feeds from the WHO, Google News and elsewhere to map disease outbreaks around the world.  It also offers Twitter alerts on the latest swine flu news.

The CDC is working closely with officials in states where human cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 have been identified, as well as with health officials in Mexico, Canada and the WHO, according to a notice on the CDC Web site Monday. "This includes deploying staff domestically and internationally to provide guidance and technical support," the notice states. "CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate this investigation."

On Sunday, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in the United States. Officials called the measure "standard operating procedure that allowed them "to free up federal, state and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation."