Finland has not yet been included in the search engine giant Google’s Flu Trends service.
Google told Helsingin Sanomat that there are plans to widen its Flu Trends service to cover new countries, but Finland is not yet among them.
Google Flu Trends is a service, which calculates the spread and prevalence of the flu in different countries based on flu-related online searches in these areas.
So far a couple of dozen of countries around the world have been included in the service. Finland’s neighbours Sweden, Norway, and Russia are all represented on the website.
The Flu Trends service is based on the notion that flu-related on-line searches seem to go hand-in-hand with confirmed cases of the flu.
Those suffering from flu symptoms may seek information on the Internet for example by using search terms such as “sore throat” or “the sniffles”.
The programme also disregards information retrievals for expressions such as “swine flu”, which are assumed to relate to something other than an individual person’s state of health.
Based on the web address of the service provider of the individual who carried out the search, the service deduces in which country the search was performed. According to Google, information linked to individual enquirers is not compiled.
Google presents the prevalence of the flu in a five-stage scale ranging from “minimal” to “intense”.
The free service has to be tailor-made for each individual country by making use of information collected previously by the authorities.
Laboratory directorThedi Ziegler from the National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) says that the Google first contacted him about three years ago:
“It was around the time of the start of the influenza pandemic. They contacted THL and I said promised that we would come aboard. After that I have not been contacted.”
Authorities in different countries also collect information regarding the spreading of respiratory tract infections, but such information lags at least 1-2 weeks behind.
The strength of the Flu Trends service is that its flu statistics are in real time. The information is updated once a day.
Based on up-to-date information health centres and hospitals can prepare for a larger than average influx of flu patients. Preparations can also be made for the growing demand of flu remedies.
The accuracy of Google’s predictions has been verified scientifically.
In January, studies by researchers at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University confirmed that a strong correlation exists between the number of flu patients seen by health centres and the calculations by Google.
THL head physician Markku Kuusi explains that THL has considered the possibilities of the Internet search results and other monitoring systems.
“The trends produced by Google reflectt what international monitoring systems report remarkably well.”