Crunching Flu Near You Data

The Flu Near You project, a collaboration between the Skoll Global Threats Fund and HealthMap of Boston Children’s Hospital, recently published data from the disease tracking system that has now been in operation for over 3 1/2 years. Flu Near You collects limited demographic characteristic information upon registration and prompts users each Monday to report symptoms of influenza-like illness (ILI) experienced during the previous week. With increased participation, FNY has the potential to serve as a viable complement to existing outpatient, hospital-based, and laboratory surveillance systems.

The team summarized Flu Near You data from the 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 influenza seasons in the United States, calculating the descriptive statistics and rates of ILI for both seasons. Raw and noise-filtered ILI rates from Flu Near You were compared with ILI rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ILINet surveillance system. More than 61,000 participants submitted at least one report during the 2012–2013 season, totaling 327,773 reports. Nearly 40,000 participants submitted at least one report during the 2013–2014 season, totaling 336,933 reports. Rates of ILI as reported by Flu Near You tracked closely with ILINet in both timing and magnitude.

Although many established systems have the benefits of specificity and credibility, participatory systems offer advantages in speed, sensitivity, and scalability. Additional analyses to examine the most recent 2014-2015 influenza season are underway and the Flu Near You team is working with partners at health agencies around the United States to encourage the use of Flu Near You data to augment existing public health surveillance data. You can read more in this just published piece in the American Journal of Public Health here.