A new year, the holidays are over and by now most resolutions that have been made, have been forgotten. Routines are picked up and you’re getting back into the swing of things. Dreams of spring and warmer weather are in the air, despite what that Groundhog predicted. Also in the air? The flu. Just when you thought you were getting back on track with work, home, and life you get sick.

Like a lot of people when I got sick this past week I turned to the internet to help determine if I should go to the Dr. or not. A first point of reference is the WebMD symptom checker. After adding my symptoms, low grade fever, sore throat, fatigue, post nasal drip, nausea, WebMD worked its algorithm magic and provided me with a list of possible problems. Strep throat, influenza, sinus infection and acute sinusitis were my most likely illness. The good news was I wasn’t dying, but I figured a trip to the doctors would be a good thing since it looked like I possibly had an infection or the flu.

In the meantime I did what any curious person would do and looked things up. How do you know if you have the flu verses a cold? According to the Centers for Disease Control  it’s not easy to tell based only on the symptoms. They share the same symptoms, only worse. Ok, well then how do you know if it’s a cold or strep throat? This one seems easier for doctors to be able to identify. The Cleveland Clinic has this handy article about the differences. I decide I should still leave the diagnosing up to the professionals.

While looking up information I came across a lot of different flu trackers. The most in depth one I found was from the CDC. They have all kinds of charts, graphs and data visualization from where the flu is currently the highest, to how many people have died. For anyone who likes information, this is a great jam packed source and they get their information from physician reports and is updated weekly.

Another source is Walgreens, who also updates their flu tracker weekly. This is a US map color coded to rank states from low to high for flu activity. They collect their data from their sales of antiviral medication and provide a list of top 10 markets.

Communidy is another tracker that collects information on the flu. Their claim is that they update their data in real time with information that is uploaded to the cloud. The CDC and Walgreens are both only updated weekly. Another feature of Communidy is they break down who the flue is impacting whether it’s children, the elderly or everyone.

The CDC, Walgreens and Communidy trackers use data collected from medical professionals. Flu Near U instead collects user submitted data to track flu activity. Anyone can submit their symptoms without having to go to the doctor. This data could create more of a picture on a communities overall flu like symptoms instead of limiting it just to actual reported cases.

So why all the tracking and data collecting? One reason is because it affects business. If you have the flu you probably aren’t going to be going to work. Productivity is decreased even if you are working from home. It creates awareness and when you see that the flu is high in your area, you can take preventative measures like washing your hands or beef up your immune system to try and combat getting sick. So wash your hands, cover your cough, and take your vitamins and try to stay healthy this season.

Jennifer Crawford, MLIS
Marketing Librarian for Access Innovations, Inc.