Mapping Asthma and Health

Google Flu Trends aimed to create a way to trend flu outbreaks based on search terms related to flu symptoms. Because what do people do when they’re sick? Go to Google to probably be google-doctor-diagnosed with acute sinusitis. (Point 1 - Google is not a doctor. Point 2 - Every symptom checker ever will 99%* of the time inform you that acute sinusitis is among your possible diagnoses. *Not a real statistic.) Essentially, flu information from your area, based on people’s Google searches and imperfect search query based magic would then show up on a map to approximate how many people in your area had the flu1. It’s sort of like a forest fire map except a lot less precise. The problem was, I started writing this in the fall, I learned this information, and discovered that Google Flu Trends doesn’t exist anymore.1,2

Well, that was a short-lived blog post! (By the way, check the picture in this article—I hope that computer wasn’t in use in 2015 when the article was published!)

Don’t worry (shh, I know I was the only one concerned, probably)—like all things, the people of the internet swooped in and decided to give us other ways to see health on maps. (Either to make you feel safer or more germophobic… Up to you)


HealthMap allows you to filter results worldwide (yay!) for a variety of different infectious diseases, including influenza, but also TB, a host of other respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal bugs, STDs, neurological disorders like meningitis, or even chicken pox. HealthMap was created by researchers, epidemiologists and software engineers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University,3 and has a complimenting mobile app to help you find health outbreaks in your area. You know, if you want to know your likelihood of acquiring something, which I usually don’t.

HealthMap is said to do Google Flu Trends using Google better than Google.2 I mean, what can’t Harvard do, right?


Sickweather is an app that you log when you’re not feeling well, and it shares that data with others in your area. I’m writing this on December 3rd, and as I’ve zoomed out, a user reported flu probably about 7 kilometers away from me. About 6K away somebody has a GI bug, and someone near that same area (maybe the same person) is dealing with allergies or asthma. Oh, and Pink Eye a week ago. Except that looks like it’s immediately at city center, so I’m unsure I can trust that it’s not just a weird software thing. One day, a ton of people had headaches in my city, though, and that’s clearly user-input.

I can’t say that Sickweather is an entirely useful way to track things, but it’s a cool concept if we could get everybody on the Quantified Self-wagon.

Weekly US Influenza Surveillance Report from the CDC

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a weekly report about all things flu in the US, in case you’re more graphy than mappy (neither of those are words). The current report for “week 47” is that “influenza activity increased slightly, but remained low in the United States”. Good job on those flu shots, guys?4

I’ll be honest, I don’t and wouldn't use these tools to navigate my life. But it is interesting to use these tools to see when people nearby are self-reporting illness—or, in the case of my favorite headache tracker app, Migraine Buddy, to see how many others in my city are experiencing headache at the same time. (Dear Healint: Please do this for asthma!).

Did you use Google Flu Trends when it existed? Does the concept of being able to “see” potentially contagious illness on a map feel useful to you or just weird you out? Let me know in the comments!

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