Colds can be expensive; from missing work, to doctor’s office visits, to trips to the supermarket for Theraflu and cough drops, the costs can add up quickly. I was recently reading about a new website from Google that gives folks a heads-up when flu and cold activity is high in their state. The site, Google Flu Trends, charts flu activity nationally and at the state level.
The site began as a project by Google.org to see how close the volume of keyword searches for flu related keywords such as symptoms like “runny nose” or “sore throat”, or even the term “flu” itself are correlated to the volume of flu incident reports that are collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It turns out that the data from Google, to a high degree, is able to predict flu outbreaks as reflected in the CDC data. In fact, flu outbreaks, show up faster in the Google data than the official CDC data by about one to two weeks.
This cold and flu season I plan to check Google Flu Trends every few days to see if there is a flu outbreak in my state. When Google Flu Trends indicate flu activity is high or intense I plan to take even more precautions to try and avoid getting sick.
Here are some ways you might minimize your risk of contracting a flu or cold:
- Get a flu shot. The Google Flu Trend’s site includes a flu shot finder.
- Wash your hands much more often during times of high flu activity or when coming into contact with people or public areas. Also make sure that your children wash their hands much more often especially when coming home from school and before they go around your home touching light switches and door knobs.
- Avoid touching your eyes or nose until after you wash your hands as these are common entry points for viruses such as the flu.
- Disinfect high contact areas. I saw a news program on a hospital that was able to cut-down on infections that patients caught while in the hospital simply by wiping down door handles and light switches with disinfected wipes.
- Keep your immune system strong. Plenty of vitamins, healthy diet, and lots of water. Also make sure to get plenty of rest.