Boston Children’s Hospital Tracks the Flu
The government shutdown means more than just the closing of the national parks. Important government health organizations like the CDC and the FDA are hanging in indefinite suspension. And with flu season upon us, and the CDC temporarily out of commission, how will we know what to expect?
On October 1st, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden tweeted:
CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can’t tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn’t shut down. We are less safe.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) October 2, 2013
These less than comforting words in addition to the large headline on the CDC’s website proclaiming its inability to act in any way are leaving some people worried about the flu season ahead. Even though new flu vaccines are being distributed to certain areas, how will the country know what to expect from this flu season with no CDC to track its progress?
Luckily, Boston is covered. HealthMap at Boston Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with the American Public Health Association, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, runs a site called Flu Near You that tracks symptoms of the spreading virus throughout the state.
Anyone over the age of 13 can contribute flu information by filling out a weekly survey of your current flu-like symptoms, or lack thereof. Your answers are analyzed and compiled into a helpful color-coded map of the country that shows you where the biggest outbreak of the disease has occurred so far.
For example, for the week ending in 10/6, the site reported that 1-3 percent of Massachusetts residents who are signed up for Flu Near You reported flu-like symptoms. Alternately, 0-1 percent of Connecticut residents and more than 7 percent of Rhode Island residents are flu-stricken.
The more people sign up and take the weekly surveys, the better the data Flu Near Me can report. While there are some restrictions to the site—there is no way to differentiate between those who contracted the flu from a vaccine and those who came in contact with the virus the old fashioned way—it is still a good way to have an idea of the state of your immediate area during flu season.