Mobile app tracks flu outbreaks on campus

The experiment, which kicked off September 30, was partly inspired by Google Flu Trends, an initiative by Google that postulates that search terms are good indicators of flu activity. The idea is that people are usually more likely to type their symptoms into a search engine before forcing themselves to go to a doctor.

An uptick in search terms that are also flu symptoms can indicate an uptick in the flu. The system isn’t perfect, but it has impressed some scientists with its accuracy and speed – in 2010, it was able to identify outbreaks two weeks before the CDC.

“Out Smart Flu” asks students to simply input that same kind of information into its app, which is available for both iOS and Android.

In order for the experiment to work, word of the app will have to spread around campus in a way similar to the disease it is monitoring. Sethi said the university hopes to get 6,000 people using the app on campus.

There’s a $500 raffle to help incentivize students to use the app, but Sethi said he’s hoping the experiment’s volunteers will be motivated by something else.

“There’s hopefully a sense of altruism we can instill in the users, that they’re helping out everyone on campus,” he said. “And a sense of pride that we’re the only university trying this.”

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