Melbourne has been called the cultural capital, the sports capital and the coffee capital of Australia. Well, now we can add another title to Melbourne’s fame, the flu capital. I’m unsure as to what is worse, trying to avoid people who have the flu in order to prevent getting sick or trying to avoid people who have the flu in order to not here another lame joke about pig flu. Either way, we are winning in the amount of H1N1 flu and coming a close second for “regular” flu cases developed this year.
In an incredible sense of bad (or possibly good) timing, Google has released “Google Flu Trends” for Australia. At first glance, it seems like another April fools prank like Gball but in fact is an interactive graph mapping flu data from user’s flu related searches on Google. Google correlated the amount of people searching for flu related topics and actual flu data from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory and found that the two were very similar as seen in the graph. Unfortunately, medical data from the VIDR is not real-time but Google’s search results are, thus making for “Flu Trends” to accurate predict the frequency of flu and the state you reside in.
Looking at Victoria’s chart, it seems that we are steadily increasing and are not close to reaching the peak. By previous year’s assessments, the flu season will slowly die down by the end of September. It’s also interesting to note that while NSW has a bigger population than VIC, it’s flu rate seems to be less. I wonder if that comes down to population density or perhaps less crowded public transportation. Maybe it’s because we have a lot of small bars open until late at night. There are probably a lot of factors but it’s interesting to see the data being graphed. With better location based tracking by Google in the future, we might be able to break down search results to suburbs. Imagine looking to buy a house and being provided with a flu rank number for the suburb.