Flu Near You Featured on ABC News

Flu Near You, and our own Mark Smolinski, were featured on a ABC 7 News segment last night here in San Francisco.  Watch it here:

National Flu Awareness Week – Spread the Word, Not the Flu

FluNearYou.org is a free and anonymous crowdsourced flu reporting system that we’ve helped launch that aims to save lives and reduce misery.  It’s goal is to create an early warning system to help detect and head off the spread of deadly flu outbreaks.


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December 8 kicks off National Vaccination Awareness Week and Skoll Global Threats Fund and FluNearYou.org need your participation now to help raise awareness of the dangers of flu and the value of FluNearYou.org.


The Flu Near You team has launched a Facebook Flu Mask Campaign that let’s you temporarily put a Flu Mask on your Facebook profile picture to show you’ve joined the #FluForce. It only takes a couple minutes and a couple steps, and it’s more than worth it. Just go here to join through Twibbon.


Thanks for joining in and helping to Spread the Word, Not the Flu!


Larry Brilliant’s Big Bet at Celebration of American Philanthropy – Ending Pandemics

Our President, Larry Brilliant, recently spoke at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Celebration of American Philanthropy event.  Larry was one of several philanthropic leaders talking about “big bets” philanthropy can make to tackle today’s challenges.  His big bet – “ending pandemics in our lifetime.”


Digital Disease Detection Conference – Live Stream

We’re co-hosting a conference starting today in San Francisco on digital disease detection. HealthMap (at Boston Children’s Hospital) is our co-host, and University of San Francisco is graciously providing the space. For those new to the issue, digital disease detection refers to the use of digital sources, web searches, and other technology to surface early signals of disease outbreaks and improve the ability to stop the spread of contagious diseases. (Our Flu Near You project is one example of this.) The conference will be bringing together leaders in technology and public health to explore how new tools can help tackle infectious disease. You can see the agenda and list of speakers here.

Today will kick off with keynotes from execs from Facebook and Quid, followed by a series of rapid fire talks on different technologies and how they’re being applied to disease detection. All of these will be available via a live stream here starting at 1:00 pm. The rapid fire talks with continue tomorrow morning at 9:00 am, also live streamed at the same URL. Folks will be tweeting from the event with a #DigDisTech hash tag.

It should be a really interesting event, so we hope you can watch!


Flu Near You on TakePart.TV

Our sister organization, TakePart, has just created a short video on Flu Near You for their Brain Food Daily series.  Flu Near You is the participatory disease surveillance initiative to put the public in public health that we’ve recently launched in partnership with HealthMap and the American Public Health Association.  Watch it below!


Flu Near You – DIY Surveillance

In addition to supporting the good work of others, we also aspire to identify areas where gaps exist in solutions to the threats we work on and create projects ourselves. Such is the case with Flu Near You. Developed in partnership with HealthMap and the American Public Health Association, Flu Near You is an effort to track the spread of flu on a national level, potentially unlocking hidden secrets about this viral mystery.

As a medical epidemiologist at Google.org, I had the pleasure of working with a team of Google engineers to answer a very specific question: “Can we find flu faster?” With Google Flu Trends, the engineers built a tool that finds flu up to two weeks earlier than the traditional sentinel laboratory-based system used in public health today. Researchers have demonstrated similar success looking at Yahoo search terms related to flu. While this two weeks advanced warning surprised some, we suspected that people would search the Internet for information about their symptoms before visiting a health care provider. This seems to be the case.

Many in public health are trying to explore the use of social networks – what you write on your “wall”, what you SMS each day – anything that might provide valuable information for even earlier warning of flu. Seems to me we may have been too timid to try what really matters:  simply asking people. Theoretically, the earliest sign of spread in a community could come from tracking the flu via self-reporting of symptoms.

Evidence suggests self-reported flu surveillance indeed works. Craig Dalton and colleagues, for example, successfully implemented FluTracking in 2004 with partners in Australia. Now tracking 10,000 people online every week, they have demonstrated vaccine efficacy and are providing guidance on addressing pockets of need in communities with high rates of self-reported illness. More importantly, they have retained – indeed, even grown – participation in the program through the simplicity of the system. Ten countries in Europe currently collaborate on Influenzanet, with thousands of online volunteers responding to a similar weekly survey via email.

Inspired by these early pioneers, we have engaged the APHA as the leading public health organization in the U.S. to build a pool of voluntary ‘sentinels’ of flu in the United States. We are asking volunteers to complete a short survey that takes 5-10 seconds once a week. Your shared data is anonymous and contributes to the Flu Near You platform, built by HealthMap.

The openly available data set can help everyone better understand flu, including policy makers, healthcare providers, researchers, educators and the public.  Reporting no symptoms of flu may prove as useful as reporting symptoms—hence the weekly survey.

With APHA’s help, we are putting the public into pubic health surveillance in a direct, active way.  We have asked APHA members to reach out through their social networks, engage with community partners, schools and workplaces, and share among their family and friends. We hope everyone will explore Flu Near You.