APHA teams with Boston Childrens Skoll Global Threats Fund to unveil new influenza surveillance tool

December 7, 2011   

Boston, Mass. - In partnership with Children’s Hospital Boston and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the American Public Health Association has launched a unique online tracking tool called “Flu Near You” that directly engages the public in an effort to help address the annual public health challenge of influenza. Based on theHealthMap platform developed at Children’s Hospital Boston, Flu Near You maps influenza activity as volunteers self-report symptoms each week.  As participation in the project grows and becomes widespread across the United States, the open system will give health practitioners and public health authorities responsible for responding to the flu a better grasp of the full breadth of the flu’s impact and spread. 

“Current estimates of how many Americans suffer from the flu every year don’t come close to measuring its actual impact,” said John Brownstein, PhD, director of theComputational Epidemiology Group within the Informatics Program at Children’s Hospital Boston and co-founder of HealthMap. “Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of cases occur but we don’t know it because they are never reported. This tool can help inform a more comprehensive picture of real-time flu activity by mobilizing the public and affording them the opportunity to contribute their localized information for the benefit of the public as well as public health professionals tasked with tracking the disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 23,000 people in the U.S. die every year from the flu, but experts contend actual deaths could range from 33,000 to 49,000.

“Flu Near You can be an invaluable surveillance tool that all members of a community, including public health officials, can rely on to help track the spread of flu locally and across the country,” said Mark Smolinski, MD, MPH, Director for Global Health at the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

In recognition of National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 4-10, APHA is calling on its member base of nearly 30,000 public health professionals from across the country to join the site and compete in a challenge to recruit as many people as possible to participate. Those who sign up as participants in Flu Near You are asked to report their flu symptoms, or lack thereof, through a weekly email survey that takes just a few seconds to complete.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to bring the public into public health, and APHA is pleased to be a part of this important initiative,” said Susan Polan, PhD, associate executive director of APHA.

To more fully test the utility of the new surveillance tool, and since participation is anonymous by design, the Flu Near You partners have pledged to make the data the site collects open to all. 

“APHA is well positioned to provide responsible messaging, leadership by example, and the ability to reach out to all sectors of society,” said Dr. Smolinski. “We are excited about partnering with APHA and building on HealthMap’s experience in participatory disease surveillance.”

HealthMap was launched five years ago as an outbreak surveillance system that offers a real-time view of emerging infectious disease threats around the world. For more information about HealthMap, visit http://healthmap.org.

For more about Flu Near You, visit www.flunearyou.org.

For more about APHA, visit www.apha.org


Keri Stedman
Children's Hospital Boston

Audrey Pernik

Children’s Hospital Boston is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and nine members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children’s Hospital Boston today is a 395 bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children’s also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about research and clinical innovation at Children’s, visit: http://vectorblog.org.  

Founded in 1872, the APHA is the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. The association aims to protect all Americans and their communities from preventable, serious health threats and strives to assure community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventive health services are universally accessible in the United States. APHA represents a broad array of health providers, educators, environmentalists, policy-makers and health officials at all levels working both within and outside governmental organizations and educational institutions. More information is available atwww.apha.org

The Skoll Global Threats Fund's mission is to confront global threats imperiling humanity by seeking solutions, strengthening alliances, and spurring actions needed to safeguard the future. http://www.skollglobalthreats.org