Health IT

Cloudy with a 50% chance of flu: startup maps out disease outlook “weather forecast” style (video)

A startup tapping social media to assess disease outbreaks has begun giving weather forecast-style reports providing an outlook on sickness trends across the country.

Sickweather was formed in November using algorithms and keyword filtering. It was developed by Graham Dodge, the co-founder and CEO, who enlisted a couple of friends — Michael Belt and James Sajor — to start the company.

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Dodge said the idea for the website was born more than one year ago when he was suffering from a stomach virus and went on Facebook to see if any of his friends had it.

Dodge said it analyzes millions of tweets and whittles them down to qualified reports.  “It’s very much like weather forecasting. It’s early days for illness forecasting. We’re really the first company to offer sickness forecasting for consumers. We were able to forecast whooping cough in Algonquin, Ill., about two to four weeks before it was reported in the media. In that sense, we’re already predictive.”

Two of its advisors — Mark Dredze, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and Michael Paul, a research assistant pursuing a PhD — have worked on projects that analyze Twitter for public health trends.

Although studying social media trends to predict illness trends, particularly flu has been a big trend lately, aside from maybe the Weather Channel’s cold and flu report and its allergy map they have not expanded into other areas, nor have they used social media. And with Dodge’s interest in other illnesses, including depression, it will be interesting to see what Sickweather’s next move is.

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