How Tech Used To Track The Flu Could Change The Game For Public Health Response

By Cathie Anderson
The Sacramento Bee

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Health care industry analysts and researchers say smart devices and mobile apps have the potential to reshape public health alerts and responses.


Tech entrepreneurs and academic researchers are tracking the spread of flu in real-time, collecting data from social media and internet-connected devices that show startling accuracy when compared against surveillance data that public health officials don’t report until a week or two later.

Just imagine if hospital officials in the Bay Area and Southern California had access to flu forecasts showing them their emergency rooms would be overrun or that their stores of medicine needed to be increased. What if school district officials could proactively implement a closure to prevent further spread of flu at particular schools?

Smart devices and mobile apps have the potential to reshape public health alerts and responses, health care industry analysts and researchers told The Bee. Over in San Francisco, for instance, the staff of smart thermometer maker Kinsa were receiving temperature readings that augured the surge of flu patients in emergency rooms there.

Kinsa thermometers are part of the movement toward the Internet of Things — devices that automatically transmit information to a database. No personal information is shared, unless users decide to input information such as age and gender. Using data from more than 1 million devices in U.S. homes, the staff is able to track fever as it hits and use an algorithm to estimate impact for a broader population.

The week before Christmas in the Bay Area, Kinsa’s computations estimated, 270,000 Bay Area residents were showing signs of flu. By Christmas week, that number had risen to 313,500 and in the first week of 2018, the estimate had leapt to 362,600.

The situation was far more dire than that faced in the Sacramento region, where Kinsa estimated the incidence of flu was 151,000 the week before Christmas and rose to 160,100 and then 188,700 in the successive weeks.

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