Tracking The Swine Flu Epidemic With Maps & Search

Chris Sherman on
  • Categories: Channel: Consumer, Features: General, Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines
  • It was less than a week ago that health officials alerted the media to a possible pandemic of swine flu in humans. Since then, authorities have moved quickly to track the outbreak and reassure the public with precautionary measures. Here’s a look at some of the best sources of online information about swine, avian and pandemic flu.

    PandemicFlu.Gov is a comprehensive resource of U.S. government information being compiled about the outbreak. Here you can find news, FAQs, information on how to plan and prepare should things worsen, status reports from countries where the flu has been diagnosed and more. There are also simple maps that show affected areas.

    Google has added an Experimental Flu Trends for Mexico page that uses aggregated search data to track queries likely to be associated with influenza-like illness. Unlike Google Flu Trends for U.S., this data has not been validated against past trends of actual cases of flu. However, it does give insights on possible flu activity in states in Mexico.

    How about within the US? TechCrunch did a nice look using Google Trends to spot where the most people are searching for swine flu information. Texas leads the list, followed by Vermont, Kansas, New Mexico and New York. TechCrunch also points at some maps based off of Facebook discussions.

    Currently on Google Trends, there are a variety of queries that are city-based, such as swine flu san jose, swine flu santa clarita and swine flu in el paso. And aside from specific cities or states, there’s a catch-all what states have swine flu search that’s in the current top 100.

    To answer that at-a-glance, perhaps the most comprehensive map has been created by virus expert Dr. Henry Niman, showing both confirmed and suspected cases of swine flu in individual humans, worldwide. The map uses markers to show confirmed or probable cases in specific locations; markers with no dots in them are confirmed fatalities. You can hear Dr. Niman talking about his map in this brief video news report.

    Another good map of the swine flu cases is offered by HealthMap, which integrates outbreak data of varying reliability, ranging from news sources (such as Google News) to curated personal accounts (such as ProMED) to validated official alerts (such as World Health Organization).

    Live Search Maps has put together a 2009 Swine Flu H1N1 Outbreak and Migration Map. This shows both reported cases of the flu, and the paths that infected people took from one country to another, spreading the disease. Over on the Live Search blog Chris Pendleton has a post talking about other swine flu visualizations, including a very colorful one that UMapper built out a version of the swine flu data which overlays a heat map showing frequency on Virtual Earth. Another map at shows animations if there are multiple cases in a single location.

    In the U.S., the Centers For Disease Control is maintaining a frequently updated swine flu resource page. The World Health Organization is maintaining a similar swine influenza resource page with details about the global spread of the disease.

    Wikipedia has also responded quickly, assembling a very cool entry on the 2009 swine flu outbreak that’s being updated frequently. Unlike the government resources mentioned above that tend to favor medical and government jargon, the Wikipedia article is written in conversational language. Want to know more about the genetics of the new flu mutation? Or more about pandemics in general? It’s all here.

    And, of course, Twitter is abuzz with people discussing the outbreak. HealthMap, mentioned above, is also issuing swine flu alerts on Twitter. Another good place to find news, blog posts and other real time information is OneRiot which features both web and video content on swine flu. New service Collecta has also created a special Swine Flu In Real Time search service that pulls from Twitter, Flickr and other resources. Finally, BoingBoing has an irreverent (but apparently factual) look at Swine Flu Fun Facts.

    About The Author

    Chris Sherman
    Chris Sherman (@CJSherman) is a Founding editor of Search Engine Land. He also programs and chairs the Marketing Land Search Marketing Expo - SMX conferences.