Google Confirms: Everyone Has the Flu

These easy to read graphs show how the flu is affecting the entire world, all through the power of Google searches.

By now, you’ve heard that a public health emergency was declared for the city of Boston. The city has 700 confirmed cases of the flu, 10 times more than the entire flu season last year. The city is offering free flu vaccinations this weekend to help stop the outbreak. We turned to Google Trends, whose amazing maps and statistics created a visual account in real time of exactly how intense this flu outbreak has been, not only in Massachusetts but across the entire nation.

Google Flu Trends compared flu-related web searches with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. Google counts how often the searches are made and then estimates how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. The results were published in the journal Nature.

Here is Google Flu Trends chart comparing Massachusetts numbers from this year to previous years:

That high peak you see was from the last major flu outbreak in 2009, when H1N1 aka, the “Swine Flu” pandemic hit the world. The tool allows you to compare this year’s flu activity to past years dating back to 2006. It is also possible to compare other states and other countries. So most of the U.S. is covered in deep red, meaning “intense” except some lucky states like California and Nevada whose rating is only “high”.

You can also see other countries and their flu numbers. France is only experiencing “moderate” flu activity, while Japan and Poland are experiencing “high” activity. South America seems to be the luckiest so far, with both Brazil and Chile reporting “low” and “minimal” activity. Lucky them. For the rest of us, the city of Boston is offering free flu shots this weekend.