Mobile app tracks flu outbreaks on campus

As much as 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mobile device usage on campuses could help doctors better understand flu outbreaks.

The problem is even worse in the packed, close-knit environment that is a college campus, where one in every four students a year gets the flu.

Traditionally, campus health officials and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked flu outbreaks by monitoring the number of people being treated for the disease.

This year, students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison can help researchers track flu outbreaks without even sacrificing any of their bed rest.

Using a free app called “Out Smart Flu,” participating students are asked a few questions about their health. The answers that students provide, and the symptoms those answers indicate, will help recognize flu activity, crowd-sourcing  the tracking of flu on campus in real time.

Or at least that’s the hope, said Ajay Sethi, an associate professor of population health sciences at Wisconsin.

“The idea is that if we can detect flu earlier on campus and make that information available to everyone, then presumably people can become aware of when they should be washing their hands a little longer, getting extra rest, avoiding crowded place, making an extra effort to get flu shot,” Sethi said.

See Page 2 to learn how mobile apps and search engines could track flu outbreaks better than humans.

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