January 2, 2017

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) add 21 states to the list of hardest impacted by Influenza-Like Illnesses. These 21 additional states are reporting an increase, not of Influenza, but Influenza-Like Illnesses, referred to as the ILI. ILI can refer to a number of illnesses like the common cold, drug detox, and prescription side-effects. So the actual Influenza strains are not tracked, the symptoms are. The Influenza strains, from blood tests, are not tabulated until weeks or months later, during a post-Influenza season report.

However, there are enterprising studies from unusual groups which have predicted Influenza and track the ILIs without the CDC’s new GIS based ILI system. The best example is the Google Organization looking at the number of individuals searching for Influenza symptoms or associated terminology. On average, Google outperformed the CDC by three months. However there was one special case crippling the model.

This was the 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic, where the H1N1 strain mutated from deadly to innocuous. The continuous media updates, drove individuals presenting without ILIs to search associated terminology for curiosity or reading news updates. Currently there are similar projects which are looking at social media. Facebook, Twitter, and others are exploring machine learning as a screening mechanism minimizing the 2009 abnormalities, shooting for a more precise prediction and faster response.

Google, Facebook, nor Twitter, have the CDC’s ability to making public health recommendations to the president, like the broad release of antivirals: Tamiflu, Relenza, and Rapivab. The US, like other nations, has a Strategic Medical Reserve, which stockpiles drugs the CDC or the World Health Organization deem as essential for a public health crisis.

Without all these new technology the instructions remain the same. If you feel sick, better stay at home. Wash your hands. If you feel like you need further medical attention, visit to your primary care doctor, not the ER or Urgent Care, first. Most importantly, if you need immediate medical attention – pick up the phone and call 911. Stay healthy out there!