Washington,Monitoring Wikipedia could estimate levels of influenza-like illness in the American population, according to a recent studyResearchers at Boston Children's Hospital have developed a method of tracking flu levels in the United States by analyzing Internet traffic on specific flu-related Wikipedia articles. They found that the system was able to estimate flu levels up to two weeks sooner than the time it takes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release flu data, Fox News reported.
The system also accurately estimated the week of peak influenza activity 17 percent more often than Google Flu Trends data. The new method examined visits to Wikipedia articles that included terms related to flu-like illnesses, whereas Google Flu Trends looks at searches typed into Google.
"We were able to get really nice estimates of what the [flu] level is in the population," study author David McIver, a postdoctoral fellow at Boston Children's Hospital, told Fox News.
Researchers calculated the number of times certain Wikipedia articles were accessed every day from December 2007 to August 2013. The model they developed performed well both through influenza seasons that are more severe than normal and through events such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 that received high levels of media attention.
"Each influenza season provides new challenges and uncertainties to both the public as well as the public health community," researchers said in a statement.
They hope to use the new method of influenza monitoring to harness publicly available data to help people get accurate, near-real-time information about the level of disease burden in the population.
"We are not trying to create something that will replace the CDC or anything like that," McIver said. Rather, the researchers' goal is "to get both things to work well together, to give us a more holistic view of what is going on."