According to the Globe and Mail, Google discovered the swine flu outbreak in Mexico a week before the entire world had even a clue it was going on. How? The theory is that when people get sick, they go online to search for information about the illness. Tracking those queries provides an almost real-time frame of how many people are sick, so the data can spot things like outbreaks more quickly than other methods. Apparently, Google released data this week that show the number of flu-related Web queries made by users in Mexico. And the data shows a “sharp spike in the number of queries, especially in Mexico City, beginning early in the week of April 19.” That was the week that Mexican health officials sounded the alarm about swine flu and that it had become a global concern. In the U.S.,
Google can check the accuracy of its results against data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the Mexican data, Google engineers note, the search engine has been unable to perform such checks.
Google plans to continue updating its Mexican flu and is working with the CDC to help in any way they can. However, they now have to
filter out the onslaught of flu-related queries being made by healthy people looking for information about this crisis.