Google Reports “Intense” Flu Activity in Philly

A look at flu-related search queries shows we're in the thick of it here in Philly.

I’d like to point out that some of you mocked me on Facebook in the fall when I said I’d gotten my flu shot. But with a new Google analysis of flu-related search terms pointing to “intense” flu activity in our area and nary a winter illness to report for me (knock on wood), I have just one thing to say: who’s laughing now?

The Google numbers, of course, aren’t scientific proof of anything; it’s simply a chart showing search-engine activity, geotargeted for Philly, around flu-related search terms—queries related to topics like “cold/flu remedy,” “antibiotic medication” and “flu symptoms.” The resulting chart, which shows spikes and drops as flu season peaks and wanes, is a shockingly near-mirror image of the official flu data gathered by the CDC. The benefit of the Google report is that it’s updated more frequently, lending a nice complement to the official data for epidemiologists. And for nerdy heath reporters like me, it provides another fun chart to look at and play around with.

Google’s Philly chart shows a steady climb in flu-related search activity since early November. In late December, we moved from “high” to “intense,” which is where we sit currently. And it makes sense, at least anecdotally speaking, when you look around: here at Philly Mag, for example, more of my coworkers have called out sick (or come in to work sick, ugh) in the past few weeks than earlier in the fall, which would correspond nicely with the growing flu-search activity.

So far, I’ve managed to steer clear of any bugs. Here’s hoping I can make it straight on through to spring. You know, when my allergies start to kick in again.