Last month, the Flu Near You crowdsourcing tool expanded its data collection to include Zika, chikungunya and dengue symptoms, such as eye pain, yellow skin/eyes and joint/bone pain. Flu Near You is a free and anonymous Web site and mobile application that allows the public to report their health information by completing brief weekly surveys.
Created by epidemiologists at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and The Skoll Global Threats Fund, the novel participatory disease surveillance tool is intended to complement existing surveillance systems by directly engaging the public in public health reporting. As such, it relies on voluntary participation from the general public, asking participants to take a few seconds each week to report whether they or their family members have been healthy or sick.
Using participant-reported symptoms, the site graphs and maps this information to provide local and national views of illness. Thousands of reports are analyzed and mapped to provide public health officials and researchers with real-time, anonymous information that could help prevent the next pandemic.
The survey, which launched in 2011, is conducted year-round for several reasons.
- First, it is possible for an influenza outbreak to occur outside of the traditional flu season. For instance, the first wave of pandemic H1N1 hit in the spring of 2009. The project wants to capture any emerging outbreak, should something similar occur again.
- Second, the project’s symptoms-based health forms allow it to monitor other diseases, such as the recently-added Zika, chikungunya and dengue, which may have different seasons than influenza.
Any resident of the US or Canada over the age of 13 can participate in Flu Near You by registering to complete the brief weekly surveys. Participants are asked to enter gender, month and year of birth, zip code and e-mail address. Once registration is complete, an initial health survey can be entered. Every Monday after, participants will then receive an e-mail with a link to a health survey where any symptoms from the past week are reported.
The Flu Near You project is administered by Healthmap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. Information on the site is made available to public health officials, researchers, disaster planning organizations and anyone else who may find the information useful. The effort is initially being supported with private funds in order to demonstrate its utility for multiple sectors who must work together for pandemic preparedness if data is openly shared.
- Video: Fight the flu. Save lives
- Flu Near You: Crowdsourced Symptom Reporting Spanning 2 Influenza Seasons
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