Where’s the Flu? New Apps Can Pinpoint Illness Outbreaks

New apps are using social media, doctors’ reports, and crowdsourcing to keep track of the spread of illnesses such as the flu, strep throat, and mononucleosis.

Worried about catching the flu? Minimizing your risk could be as simple as checking your smartphone.

A new mobile app called Doctors Report Illness Tracker collects data on a variety of diseases from 1 million doctors’ offices nationally. Users can search destinations by zip code to get information on the prevalence of the flu and other illnesses, including strep, bronchitis, pneumonia, conjunctivitis, mononucleosis, common cold and cold symptoms, sinusitis, croup, Lyme disease, ear infections, MRSA, RSV, and gastroenteritis.

App creator Dan Shaw said parents whose children have a travel soccer game can use the app to determine if there’s a flu outbreak in the town they’re visiting, for example.

“The Doctors Report website and app is for everyone, from parents of young children trying to avoid illnesses like strep, or senior citizens and people with chronic conditions like asthma who try hard to manage their exposure to health risks, to just someone planning a business trip or a vacation,” said Shaw. “Doctors themselves can benefit by having ready access to fresh information they can use to advise patients.”

The data used by the app, which currently has about 3,000 installed users according to Apptopia, comes from “the everyday process of patients visiting their doctor at an office, clinic, or hospital setting,” Shaw told Healthline.

Doctors Report looks at about 70 percent of all healthcare claims data submitted to private and government payers, Shaw noted.

Nearly all doctors and healthcare providers contribute information to the database, which includes diagnosis data from nearly 1 billion doctors’ visits annually.

Sickweather monitors social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for posts on illness, including mentions of the flu or common cold.

“Crowdsourcing gives you a more well-rounded picture of what’s going on in each area,” Graham Dodge, chief executive officer of Sickweather, told Healthline. “People can be complaining about symptoms weeks before they see a doctor, so there’s a two- to four-week window of opportunity to capture information on people who are experiencing illness.”

Dodge said the “sick zone” reports delivered to app users are based on data from about 6 million social media accounts, as well as subscribers to the Weather Channel (whose national flu map is generated from Sickweather data) and reports from app users themselves.

Apptopia reported that the Sickweather app, launched in 2013 on iOS and 2014 on Android, has about 95,000 regular monthly users.

Kinsa, a maker of digital thermometers, recently launched Kinsa Insights, which gathers temperature and fever data from its devices to predict illness trends.

Kinsa officials said Insight’s predictive prowess equals that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Plus, it’s in real time rather than the two- to six-week lag common with other reporting systems.

Flu Near You is a voluntary, crowdsourced database of flu activity that’s also searchable by zip code.

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