Health & Medicine

Flu near you? These apps can show how close

If you live in Sacramento’s 95818 ZIP code, which comprises much of Land Park and Curtis Park neighborhoods, the only thing standing between you and a severe flu outbreak is Sutterville Road, William Land Park and, gulp, Fairytale Town.

Further south in the 95822 ZIP code, residents of South Land Park, Hollywood Park, Freeport Manor and Southwest Sacramento are in the grips of a flu outbreak that scores an 8.5 out of a possible high of 10 on a scale developed by the illness tracker DoctorsReport.com.

Mobile apps and websites allow people to track common illnesses, including influenza, right down to the ZIP code – and sometimes even street – where the sickness was reported. In the case of DoctorsReport.com, founder Dan Shaw said he culls information from physicians. Depending on the data used, results can vary among apps.

“The data that drives DoctorsReport illness tracker is directly from doctors’ visits and clinics and other locations where patients see their doctors across the country, almost 1 million doctors’ offices from throughout the United States,” Shaw said. “It’s as current as seven days or less. ... There’s no patient identification. DoctorsReport.com is the only health app that uses actual diagnostic data from doctors’ offices.”

Indeed, other companies such as Sickweather.com crowdsource their data from social media posts, medicine purchases and other sources, so the level of severity of an illness may look completely different.

At Sickweather.com, for instance, the Sacramento region looks pretty light on flu reports in ZIP codes classified as severely affected by DoctorsReport.com. The latter also highlighted flu hot spots in the 95678 ZIP code in Roseville, bordered by Foothills Boulevard, Highway 65 and Interstate 80, and in the 95776 ZIP code of Woodland, east of Interstate 5, among others.

Sickweather co-founder Graham Dodge said consumers who use his site at no cost tell him that they don’t use it as a harbinger of neighborhoods to avoid but rather as a tool in helping to diagnose illnesses that may be affecting their children, spouses or elderly parents. Pharma retailers and manufactures also pay Sickweather.com for its data to assist with marketing decisions.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Dodge said. “Up until this point, there really was no early warning or real-time surveillance of things like influenza. The CDC, what they report, is usually on about a two-week lag from what they get from hospitals and other health-care facilities. Two weeks is the entire viral life cycle for lots of illnesses.”

Both Shaw and Dodge said they came up with the ideas for their sites because of needs of their own. As a parent, Dodge wanted a way to help discover illnesses that might be affecting his children. Shaw, on the other hand, fell ill with flu while on vacation, and he wanted a site that allowed people to check for illnesses and find preventive measures they could take to avoid illness.

“Welcome to a new day of taking control of your exposure to common illnesses,” Shaw said. “Users can instantly find out where the most common and prevalent infectious health risks and common illnesses exist.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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