NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - You may not have to wait for a note from school to find out about the next outbreak of cold or flu. Now you can check your smart phone to see if your neighbors have the sniffles.
We search for the hottest restaurants; the best deals and give traffic alerts in real time. The new sickweather app claims to get you similar info about the latest bug. Graham Dodge, Sickweather CEO, said, "It's like a Waze app for sickness." The app plots down to street level who's talking about the latest tummy trouble or if strep is on the rise.
Dodge said, "We are looking at the earliest signs of illness through social media or crowd sourcing as people are tweeting that they have a cough or sore throat or better yet that they have been diagnosed with flu." Downloading the free app gives you access to local reports and trends.
Dr. Fred Lopez, a professor of Infectious disease at LSU Health and Sciences New Orleans says it's a good idea, but the self-reporting may not give an accurate picture of what's really happening. Lopez said, "I think yes it's helpful and that it does remind us that there is illness out there. The question is what illness is it that you are encountering?"
Even though information is supplemented from reliable sources all of Sickweather's real time info is from social media and users. Lopez said, "Is someone with the flu saying they have a cold? Is someone with a cold saying they have allergies? Which is it?"
The company also uses computer models to make predictions. Dodge said, "We have so much data now on things like flu season and allergy season that we can train these models almost like artificial intelligence in how it learns. It can now learn that if there's this much flu activity right now in a few weeks it's going to be this high."
Even with its questionable data Lopez thinks there is some value in knowing what's going around. He said, "Well I think it's helpful to know for example what the CDC is already telling us on a weekly basis which is right now we are in a high level of flu activity here in Louisiana and it is widespread. Knowing that and whether it's being corroborated by social media or not does remind us that if we haven't done certain things to protect ourselves that we should go and get our flu shot to protect ourselves in what is currently a very active flu season."
He also says you can't wash your hands enough whether it's old school caution or new school technology you're using to try to avoid being sick this holiday season. Lopez also mentioned that even with questions about the effectiveness of this year's flu shot some protection is better than none at all.
Click here for a link to Sickweather.com.