Posted by: Ed Becker | November 24, 2008

Will the Internet Prevent the Flu?

The costs of influenza outbreaks in a society include healthcare costs, lost productivity, and the immeasurable costs of pain and grief. The yearly medical costs of the flue are estimated at up to $4.6 billion. In addition, an estimated 110 million workdays are estimated to be missed as a result of the flu.  Absenteeism from the flu costs America more than $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity. Adding these together, the annual estimated impact of the flu on just the USA is nearly $12 billion.


Can the Internet prevent the flu and save these unnecessary costs?  Google thinks it can!


Google believes there is a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and the number of individuals that have flu or flu-like illness.  While it is clear that not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, Google’s research shows there is a pattern that emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together.


In a research study, Google compared the number of queries with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The results indicate that certain search queries have a tendency to increase during the flu season.  When Google counted the search queries, they were able to estimate how great the incidence of flu was in different regions of the United States!



Google Flu Trends ran a trial during the 2007-2008 flu season.  Working in cooperation with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC, Google was able to accurately estimate flu levels in each of nine CDC reporting regions as much as two weeks sooner than the CDC.


By making flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza. Check it out at .  Perhaps it will help you stay well all winter!  It may be time to develop a telework plan to counteract making the workplace a breeding ground for flu.



  1. The google tool is great. I am part of a non-for-profit public/private partnership that is working to prepare communities for an influenza pandemic (Bird Flu). According to the World Health Organization it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when for when the next pandemic will strike. In addition, WHO says tha homes will become safe havens for people, which means employers will be charged with the task of getting work to people instead of vice-versa. Interested in what it takes to create a program for yourself? Check out, there’s a lot of great Free information on creating your telework program. In addition, our non-for-profit’s website has a lot of general information on pandemic planning for businesses. Check it out at

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