View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map
"Likely" swine flu infections suffered by ten Rangitoto College students have been noted on Google’s official Flu Trends site, created in co-operation with the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and pinned on an unaffiliated Google Map tracking the possible pandemic.
Yesterday, deputy director of public health Dr Darren Hunt confirmed that the 10 Rangitoto students had tested postitive for Influenza A. It won't be known for several days whether they are suffering from H1N1 or "swine flu," the subset of Influenza A that has so far killed 80 in Mexico and infected more than 20 in the US, where President Obama has declared a public health emergency. But Health Separtment officials describe the scenario as "highly likely."
The 10 were part of a wider group of 22 Rangitoto students who arrived home from Mexico to New Zealand on Saturday, with 14 reporting flu-like symptoms. One is in hospital, the rest are under home quarantine.
Students at two other North Shore schools that have recently visited Mexico –Northcote College and Westlake Girls High School – are also being spoken to by health officials.
All 364 passengers on the Rangitoto students' Air New Zealand NZ1 flight from Los Angeles will be tested, say health officials, but as of Monday morning none had been approached, let alone tested or quarantined, according to a Radio New Zealand report.
The UN World Health Organisation (WHO), which has moved to stage three of its six-stage plan for dealing with possible pandemics, says Tamiflu works against H1N1. New Zealand has around 800,000 doses of the drug stockpiled.
Flu Trends, which maps the location of outbreaks, is an official initiative of Google's philanthropic wing, Google.org, in association with the CDC, and restricted to the US only.
The global H1N1 Swine Flu map, which is unaffiliated with Google.org and Flu Trends, was created by apparently science-qualified but spelling-challenged Google user "Niman" whose tagline reads "Biomedical Research, Pittsburgh, PA USA."
Google's Flu Trends site lets US citizens track outbreaks of the virus around the country, or by state, and will deliver warnings two weeks earlier than the government's official flu surveillence system, the company claims.
The search giant noticed relevant search terms increased during flu outbreaks.
Google's Predict and Prevent team mapped aggregated search terms, and the location of searchers (which can be determined by a person's IP or internet protocol address), then mapped it against data supplied by the US government's CDC.
The result is a new interactive website, Google.org Flu Trends, which lets sufferers –or at least North American sufferers – know when and where an outbreak is hitting, plus a flu-jab search engine to find the nearest place to get inoculated.
Google says it used its Flu Trends algorithm to analyse outbreaks over the past year, and found its system yielded warning signs one to two weeks earlier than CDC.
Results are updated daily. Google says it aggregates search query data to protect individuals' anonymity.
The CDC says the influenza virus, commonly known as the flu, kills around 500,000 people worldwide each year. Spotting a new strain earlier can help prevent a wide outbreak or pandemic which, under certain conditions, could kill millions.
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