As the flu season kicks off in the southern hemisphere, Google announces the launch of Google Flu Trends for New Zealand.
Google Flu Trends, which launched in the US last year, resulted from the company's observation that certain flu-related search queries are common during flu season, and that searches for flu-related topics are closely correlated to the actual spread of flu.
While some traditional flu tracking systems may take days or weeks to collect and release data, Google search queries can be counted immediately. As a result, Google Flu Trends can be updated daily and may provide early detection of flu outbreaks.
To create Google Flu Trends for New Zealand, Google worked with historical seasonal flu data from the WHO National Influenza Centre at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Health, as well as their own anonymised, aggregated historical search data, to build a flu model for New Zealand, broken out by North and South Island.
Dr Matthew Peacey from ESR, said: "The development of Google Flu Trends for New Zealand provides an additional tool for the Centre's comprehensive surveillance efforts. Whilst Google Flu Trends cannot replace WHO influenza network surveillance, this does provide an indication of influenza trends that complements our enhanced surveillance put in place to meet the country's needs, particularly during this novel influenza A/H1N1 outbreak."
The Ministry of Health estimates that influenza affects up to 20% of New Zealanders each year, leading to hundreds of hospitalisations and sometimes deaths. Early detection is critical to helping health officials respond more quickly and save lives.
According to the Ministry of Health, Influenza is a significant public health issue in New Zealand. Each year it has a large impact on our community, with 10-20% of New Zealanders infected (380,000-760,000 people).