Data maps use queries to predict the flu season

Cruising the Internet, we ran across a couple of novel data maps that attempt to chart the trajectory and severity of the flu season.

According to these maps, the U.S. is in the throes of the flu season, which appears pretty severe in California and Texas compared to much of the rest of the country.

Google Inc. bases its map of the United States on queries about the flu. The premise is that you must have the flu, be worried about getting the flu or watching your coworkers fall to the flu if you query.

A paper in Nature explains: “Because the relative frequency of certain queries is highly correlated with the percentage of physician visits in which a patient presents with influenza-like symptoms, we can accurately estimate the current level of weekly influenza activity in each region of the United States, with a reporting lag of about one day.”

Just last year, Google updated its methodology, fine-tuning it.

Over at Columbia University’s school of public health, some complex data mapping is going on, based on Google queries and World Health Organization statistics through the third week of January.

Here, you can view which cities are flooded with the flu. In California, Berkeley and Sunnyvale look to be faring the worst, with Sacramento a not-so-distant third. The good news? If you believe this map, we are on the downward side of this season’s flu peak.

It’s fun to explore and play with the data. As for accuracy, we’ll see.

Just in case, though, watch out, you folks in Beaverton, Oregon. You’re about to be hit hard.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.