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An Alarm System for Flu Outbreaks Using Google Flu Trend Data

*Gregory Vaughan, Department of Statistics, University of Connecticut 
Robert Aseltine Jr., Institute for Public Health Research, University of Connecticut Health Center 
Steven Chiou, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Minnesota -- Duluth 
Jun Yan, Department of Statistics, University of Connecticut 

Keywords: Control chart, Exponentially weighted moving average, processes, Google Flu trends, Influenza, Statistical process control

Outbreaks of influenza pose a serious threat to communities and hospital resources. It is important for health care providers to not only know the seasonal trend of influenza, but also to be alerted when unusual outbreaks occur as soon as possible for more efficient, proactive resource allocation. Google Flu Trends data showed a good match in trend patterns, albeit not in exact occurrences, with the hospitalization counts due to influenza from the Centers for Disease Control, and, hence, provided a timely, inexpensive data source to develop an alarm system for outbreaks of influenza. For the State of Connecticut, using weekly Google Flu Trends data from 2003 to 2012, an exponentially weighted moving average control chart was developed after removing the trend from the observed data. The control chart was tested with the 2013 data, and was able to issue an alarm at the unusually earlier outbreak in January 2013.