I practice in Massachusetts, and as many have seen from the news, the flu is getting a lot of attention.

Mayor Tom Menino declared a public health emergency after 700 cases of flu.

Patients are asking me where to get a vaccine. Everyone is frustrated and worried.

However, where can technology serve a role in combating the flu? There are multiple developments in technology to help navigate the rise in flu and track what areas are being hit.

This review targets recent developments that may play a large role in the future.

Search Term Evaluation

Google Flu Tracker

  • Google is leveraging its vast utilization as a search based browser to aggregate data from searches to detect flu patterns. By tracking the use of key search terms that may be used by someone with the flu, Google aims to detect flu outbreaks, before they become outbreaks. Google also wants to find where they are coming from.
  • Interestingly, the tracker of key search terms has been similar to what was quantified by traditional flu activity indicators.
  • Results of this project have been published in Nature and JMIR.
  • Research is needed in determining whether using flu-trackers can serve as an early warning system. If we can detect flu outbreaks in their earliest stages, then we can direct resources and interventions like vaccines or public alert campaigns to prevent the outbreak entirely.

“Big Data” Collection

Flu Near You

  • Administered by the Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association, this web-tool is for users to register and participate in weekly surveys to identify flu trends.
  • Currently there are over 40,000 users enrolled, with over 14,000 reporting symptoms.

Social Media Monitoring


  • Currently in Beta, this group is seeking to leverage tweets and social media posts to identify where the flu may currently be spreading.
  • Data is collected from posts and then tracked via mapping to the location where the post came from.

Help, I have the Flu

  • This is a Facebook-based app that scans your friends profiles for posts that may indicate whether or not they could have been the one that gave you the flu.

Vaccine Locators

HealthMap Vaccine Finder

  • This web-tool identifies locations of clinics and pharmacies that currently stock the flu vaccine and in what form.
  • It allows users to report if there is a shortage in stocks at a pharmacy.