5 online tools to track the flu

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Forty seven states reported widespread Influenza activity last week, up from 41 the week before, according to the CDC. The good news is that several websites offer useful—or at least interesting—information regarding the season’s outbreak.

Google.org Flu Trends is a good place to start.

First, it shows the regions in the world where the flu is most rampant, with North America being the hardest hit. You can also download animated flu trends for Google Earth that show a 3D model of the Earth, then you can drill down into various states to see how this year’s flu data compares with previous years. It also provides a link to Public Data Explorer, which lets you click on various countries or regions and compare flu search activity according to which of them are getting the most Google searches for the term “flu.”

FluNearYou.org is also worth checking out if you’re concerned about how many people near you have come down with the bug. You can sign in with Facebook or your email address, give the site your birthdate and zip code, and fill out a short survey to determine whether you’re experiencing any symptoms. In return, you get a Google Map peppered with little pins indicating others who have self-reported whether they have been sick. FluNearYou is also available as an Android and iOS app.

Even Facebook has an app, which is called Help, I Have the Flu. Give it permission, and the app reviews your friends' statuses for mentions of "sneeze," "cough" or "flu" and takes them as clues that someone is sick, notifying you. Whether you'll actually learn about the contagiousness of your friends is questionable; when is the last time you used those terms in your own social network musings? Still, it's a clue.

SickWeather also scans Facebook as well as Twitter for sickly-sounding posts but seems to use a larger lexicon of keywords in its search. Whereas Help, I Have the Flu didn’t determine that any of my Facebook friends recently mentioned being sick, SickWeather found three online associates who used words such as “depressed,” “strep” and “flu.”

Want to know where you can get a flu shot? Check out HealthMap Vaccine Finder. Plug in your zip code and it will map out places nearby where you can score one.

FluNearYou, available online or as an app, shows nearby outbreaks.

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