Scientists Develop Models For Flu Predictions
January 4, 2013

Flu Season Is Upon Us, Researchers Look At New Ways To Make Predictions

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

With January here, it´s time to watch out for flu season. During the winter months, flu season typically reaches its peak and individuals can experience flu-related complications like dehydration and pneumonia. While people may only be sick for a short time, it can still be difficult to deal with the different symptoms related to the flu. With this in mind, researchers have looked into predicting the various points of flu season and many have used weather data more and more in providing public health predictions on outbreaks of the disease.

While health officials have shown interest in using weather data to better predict the progress of flu season, public health experts point out that the outbreaks can also depend on other factors like human behavior.

According to the Associated Press (AP), creating health predictions based off of weather is not a novel concept as scientists have attempted to predict outbreaks in the past with various mathematical formulas. There have also been advances in technology, including the use of satellite data, which have helped improve the success rate of tracking illness via weather. For example, scientists at John Hopkins University and the University of New Mexico looked at rain and snow data to track plant growth; these plants in turn brought out rodents, and the feces of rodents passed tracings of illness to humans.

"We predicted what would happen later that year," Gregory Glass, a researcher at Johns Hopkins who studied the plants in the latter of the 1990s, told the AP.

The AP report also detailed an article in last month´s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where researchers stated that they could predict the high point of flu season based off a model that filtered data on weather from 2003 to 2009. Using Google Flu Trends to track online searches of flu-related information and humidity readings, the scientists were able to provide calculations on peak moments of flu season. They are looking to provide real-time predictions next year with the model.

"It's certainly exciting," Lyn Finelli, who serves as the flu surveillance chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the AP.

While the model is still in development, there are many things individuals can do to help protect themselves during flu season. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides information on prevention and treatment. In particular, the organization states that the best form of prevention is to get vaccinated. Individuals can also protect themselves from getting the flu by washing their hands frequently with hot water and soap and by avoiding close contact with people who are sick. It´s also a good idea to maintain good health habits, like getting a sufficient amount of sleep, exercising on a regular basis, as well as drinking copious amounts of water and consuming nutritious foods. These tips are especially important for seniors, children, and people who have chronic health conditions as they are the most at risk for experiencing complications related to the seasonal flu.