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Early start to flu season
A website claims social media tipped it off to the 2012-13 flu season's early start.
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Outliers: Social media gets jump on the CDC

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: January 19, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Dr. Google is already everyone's favorite diagnostician, but perhaps has been somewhat lacking as an epidemiologist.

Enter Sickweather, a Baltimore-based website that believes it can harness the power of social media to correctly predict disease outbreaks—perhaps even better than the stodgy powers that be in Atlanta.

Sickweather aggregates data from Facebook status updates and tweets; if someone posts that she's under the weather and provides her location, the company runs her symptoms through an algorithm and uses them to track the geographical spread of disease activity.

A Doppler radar for illness, as the company puts it.

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But Sickweather really hit its stride in October when it got a six-week jump on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in announcing (on Twitter, of course) that this year's flu season was off to an earlier start than last year.

It wasn't until Dec. 3 that the CDC confirmed that flu activity had gotten its earliest start in a decade.

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