Vail Daily health feature: Sickweather maps track illnesses using social media | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily health feature: Sickweather maps track illnesses using social media

Sickweather.com scours and mines data from social media sites on people who are ill and plots the results on a real-time map.
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Flu shot can help lessen symptoms, public health director says

To be or not to be … vaccinated.

Be, says Jennifer Ludwig, Eagle County’s public health director.

“For those who do come down with the flu, it’s likely to be less severe,” Ludwig said.

The vaccine is available at pharmacies and most physicians’ offices, Ludwig said.

The world is coming for the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships, and everything with them — everything.

“Now with the 2015 World Championships right around the corner, it’s a good time to be vaccinated. It takes about two weeks to build up the full immunity,” Ludwig said.

There are things you can do:

Avoid people who are sick; cover your sneezes and coughs; wash your hands often; keep your hands away from your face; and if you’re sick stay home for 24 hours after the symptoms have cleared.

“Those messages are good for any kind of communicable disease,” Ludwig said.

Eagle County Public Health offers vaccinations for seasonal flu at all three of its locations: Avon, Eagle and El Jebel. Flu shots cost $14 for uninsured children and adults. They’re around $20 if you get them at a pharmacy, Ludwig said.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that everyone six months and older should get vaccinated for seasonal flu every year. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccination at a regular clinic, provider office, or pharmacy.

Flu shots

The CDC says everyone six months old and older should still get flu shots.

Dodge’s data indicates the flu season peaked in late December, but you can still get sick.

This year’s flu vaccine is only 23 percent effective, because it does not include the bug that’s making most people sick, according to last week’s government study.

In the best flu seasons, the vaccines are 50-60 percent effective.

Each year, the flu vaccine is reformulated based on experts’ best guess at which three or four strains will cause the biggest problems. Those predictions are usually made in February, so pharmaceutical companies have enough time to manufacture enough doses.

This year’s formula did not include the strain of H3N2 virus that caused about two-thirds of the illnesses this winter.

Still, if you get the flu and you’ve had your shot, it won’t be as bad as it would have been without it, Ludwig said.

Get your shot

You can still get the flu, and it’s not too late to get your flu shot. To check the progress of various illnesses through the region, go to sickweather.com, or flunearyou.org.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Graham Dodge used to lead a team that managed an online crime map. Then he had a baby. OK, his wife actually had the baby, but he was personally involved.

Anyway, he was home with the baby and was suffering from a stomach illness.

He wanted to figure out if it was an actual stomach illness or food poisoning. Because he was accustomed to mapping data, he did a little online research and found nothing.

The Centers for Disease control was no help. Neither was anyone else.

“Our own users can contribute immediately. We’re the Doppler of disease.”
Graham Dodge

He finally found a Facebook buddy who was suffering from the same sort of thing.

While a couple bouts with a stomach bug does not an epidemic make, it was enough to flip on Dodge’s idea light.

“I thought, ‘This might be something I should try to figure out,’” he said.

One of the Sickweather co-founder’s mother was going through chemotherapy and he was her primary caregiver. He could not be away from her, and if he got sick it could kill her, Dodge said.

They started scouring and data mining social media sites for sick people — as in physical ill, not the other kind — and plotted the results on a map. The result is real-time data about illnesses and where they are.

“Our own users can contribute immediately. We’re the Doppler of disease,” Dodge said. “It updates in real time. You don’t have to wait for public health services or anyone else to issue a warning.”

Because it mines data from social media sites, detractors tend to dismiss it as “Facebook for hypochondriacs.”

Tracking symptoms

The app can cycle through 23 illnesses that they track, illnesses people talk about on social media.

Flu generally tops the list, because it’s still flu season, Dodge patiently explained.

Flu peaked at the end of the December for most states, which you would know if you were Dodge or downloaded his app.

The maps show clusters of activity as represented by blue “SICK” map markers.

They show their data for two weeks. After two weeks most diseases are past their viral lifecycle, he said.

The Sickweather map says flu, cough and strep throat are going around in our region. Strep is going around this time of year, as is pneumonia.

Sickweather launched in November 2011. In 2012, they were recognized among “100 Brilliant Companies” by Entrepreneur Magazine.

Flu Near You

Eagle County’s public health department tends to favor Flu Near You (FluNearYou.org) to access and contribute to a data-stream of influenza like illness in Eagle County.

Flu Near You is self reporting, said Jennifer Ludwig, Eagle County’s Public Health director.

Last year about 100 people were signed on. They saw the peak a week before it happened, Ludwig said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.



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