Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
The flu is here early this year. It's bad, and it's getting worse.
Google's Flu Trends data shows searches for flu symptoms, complications and remedies going sky high. It's far worse than the early-season flu of 2009-10, and it is only hinting at a plateau.
What's in a search? Plenty. Google Flu Trends is a remarkably accurate model of flu epidemics. Powered by geographically tagged search queries, it predicts flu data in all 50 states and a number of countries, and its powers have been written up in Nature -- a gold stamp of scientific research.
According to Google's state-by-state map, only Connecticut has anything less than high flu activity right now.
Update: Connecticut has registered a sharp increase in flu searches, and is now has "Intense" flu activity.
Google provides city data too. Though it hasn't been confirmed with historical cases like the state-level information has, it uses the same technology. Its predictions are similarly dire -- only Reno, Takoma Park, and Beverly Hills have anything less than high flu activity (the interactive map is available on the Flu Trends site):
In Boston, reported infections are up tenfold, and Mayor Thomas Menino has declared a public health emergency. A look at some weekly state influenza reports confirms the sinister outlook. In Missouri, the Department of Health reports a 1,894 percent increase in positive flu tests over the five-season median in the first week of 2013. In New York, the graph is an exact mirror of Google's flu trends data [PDF]:
And the Center for Disease Control's influenza map from the last week of 2012 shows hospital visits are following along with the data, with a drab khaki color signifying maximum alarm:
So wash your hands. Flu season is upon us. "A decade ago, when we had widespread circulation (of the seasonal flu), we had 70,000 deaths in the U.S," Gregory Poland, a director at the Mayo Clinic, told USA Today.