Google, the Internet search engine, has created a new tool that will help track illness, a development that could put in place early warning and control measures for flu outbreaks.
The tool developed by Google.Org, the company's philanthropic department, uses search terms that are commonly entered into the Internet to work out possible flu clusters.
"This is an example where Google can use the incredible systems that we have to come up with an interesting, predictive result," said Eric E. Schmidt, Google's chief executive.
"Flu trends" is based on the idea that people who feel sick will probably turn to the Internet for information by searching for terms such as muscle aches, thermometer and chest congestion etc.
"One thing we found last year when we validated this model is it tended to predict surveillance data. The data are really, really timely," said Dr Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
It tracks their ebb and flow, broken down by regions and states that can be notified to a central data control unit as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
"They (model) were able to tell us on a day-to-day basis the relative direction of flu activity for a given area. They were about a week ahead of us. They could be used... As early warning signal for flu activity," Finelli, was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph newspaper today.
According to the British daily, early tests suggest that the service may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are normally reported by the CDC. The company said it will keep user information confidential.