What Will the 2013 Flu Season Bring?

Before we get into this season’s flu trends, it’s worth learning a little bit about influenza.

What Is Influenza?

Influenza refers to illnesses and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a number of different influenza viruses. Typical symptoms are fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue. Annual outbreaks of seasonal influenza usually occur during the late fall through early spring.

Have a look at our post: Seasonal Influenza, A Helpful Reminder to learn how to protect yourself influenza and what to do if you become sick.

2013 Flu Trends

2013 Flu Season

2013 flu season (dark blue) compared to the past six years.

By looking at data gathered by Google so far this year, we can see that 2013 is beginning to look like one of the worst flu seasons in recent years. Compared to the previous 6 years, this season is only overshadowed by the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. Unfortunately, it is still to early to determine if flu cases will continue to rise.

By using millions of data points, Google Flu Trends is able to determine (with a high-level of accuracy) how big of an impact the flu is having on a seasonal basis.

This data is important because it can show flu queries in real-time, often weeks ahead of reporting agencies.

Flu season

Comparing flu search results throughout Canada.

How does Google Flu Trends Work? (excerpt from Google)

Each week, millions of users around the world search for health information online. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer.

Flu trends

Google Flu Trends compared to Public Health Agency of Canada records.

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. 

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As you can see, Google Flu Trends is a very powerful tool that can predict the severity of the upcoming flu season with frightening accuracy. Given the intensity of the flu in 2013, it is as important as ever to get vaccinated. Learn more about vaccination here: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vs-sv/vs-faq17-eng.php

Go explore Google Flu Trends yourself!