Swine flu brain pop

22 06 2009

Rather good UK children’s animated production explains the current swine flu novel Mexican A/H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Some innacuracies, but its hard to tell exactly how dated this might be. Still, definitely good enough at explaining key concepts effectively for schoolchildren

Hattip: Malaysia SMS

Trends in internet influenza

20 06 2009

At the start of the month, Google announced it was expanding its search-engine-based epidemiology surveillance tool, Flu Trends, to process information originating from Australia and New Zealand (previously it was processing U.S. statistics and a beta Mexico version).

The tool is based on there being a correlation between the number of people typing in influenza-related keywords into Google and the actual number of cases of influenza in the country. Google claims it is supported by historical data. The concept does make sense: when you are your family are sick with flu-like symptoms, that would be the time you are more likely to search for information on possible causes – Thus people searching for “flu” could reflect the cases across the country.

But I was skeptical at how well it would work in a pandemic. Google’s data might hold up for its recorded history, but that does not extend back to 1968-9 – the last influenza pandemic. A pandemic not only involves the potential for an increased number of influenza cases and increased severity of those cases, it also means an increased amount of media coverage and public awareness. When I last looked at Google Trends and health searches, I saw a possible link between media coverage of Kylie Minogue and Australian searches for breast cancer. There is a good reason to suspect that the statistical relationship between search terms and disease cases will not hold up during pandemic conditions. This concern is not addressed appropriately in the Flu Trends FAQ.


Google Flu Trends Data, as of 20 June, 2009. Click for larger image. A - US 2008/09 search data c.f. historical B - Australia 2008/2009 data c.f. historical (2008/09 dark blue, historical light blue). C - Australia historical data (blue) compared with official epidemiological seasonal ILI (infleunza-like-illness) data (orange)

Google Flu Trends Data, as of 20 June, 2009. Click for larger image. A - US 2008/09 search data c.f. historical B - Australia 2008/2009 data c.f. historical (2008/09 dark blue, historical light blue). C - Australia historical search data (blue) compared with official historical epidemiological seasonal ILI (infleunza-like-illness) data (orange)

Looking at the U.S data, for this past season, it looks like it could be an accurate reflection. And if anything, rather than seeing a spike of search term activity this year, there was not much difference than previous years. In fact, the historic data contains several search spikes that do not exist in this years trends. All this information could either accurately reflect that the influenza pandemic thus far has been little more than out-of-season seasonal flu, or, just maybe, that the increased media activity and awareness have actually actively decreased usage of Google for health information.

Were people being directly channeled towards non-search websites, like flupandemic.gov.au? Were they getting enough influenza information from other websites they frequent, like news websites? Was there enough offline influenza resources that people did not feel the need to Google to find out more? Or were people just overloaded and desensitized by the mass media hysteria?

I still prefer the Rhiza Labs case-mapping tool. It is much more informative and accurate.

First swine flu death in Australia

20 06 2009

My boss and some co-workers are flying to Melbourne on Monday to meet with clients. We were joking about how they should be extra careful while visiting the “swine flu capital of Australia“. Maybe she should put herself in a week-long quarantine when she gets back.

One of our Medical Writers pointed out how its all overblown. And I pointed out that no one had died in Australia yet.

Well, I guess I should stop opening my mouth to talk about swine flu from now on. A 26-year old Indignous man from central Australia died in Royal Adelaide Hospital ICU died from a number of complications, including pneumonia. He was infected with the Mexican Influenza A/H1N1 virus.

It is not known where or when the man contracted the virus, nor how much it may have contributed to his fate.

I’ve pointed elsewhere on the internets that WHO has expressed concern over the possibility that Indigenous Canadian groups may be more susceptible to the A/H1N1 virus. Let’s hope that situation is not true here (or there, even).

Do we take this as a sign to panic? That we aren’t doing enough? Or are the governmental precautions still too heavy handed? They won’t do anything to help, they did not help this man? Does this change anything? Is it just a continuation of SNAFU ‘flu?

Image Credit: ‘Chasing pig at Gatton College‘, Unknown circa 1940sState Library of Queensland on flickr

Pandemic is not a synonym for crisis

1 06 2009

…necessarily. In this case it’s more SNAFU.

I read this weekend’s Sunday Herald during lunch today. There was a double page spread on the growing “Swine Flu Crisis!” (251 Infected!*).

While I’m not sure if this graph is actually based on real figures, it does put the pandemic in perspective:
song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

The threat of Mexican flu is quite relative. This strain may only turn out as bad as regular flu. But regular flu isn’t something to sniff at. Each year influenza occurs on a pandemic scale, this kills about 250,000 – 500,000 worldwide. So when the health authorities are saying “this is just like seasonal influenza”, they may be quite right to downplay the threat, but there is still a threat – SNAFU.

Was that enough mixed messages?


Hattip for GraphJam: Cheshire

*It’s now over 300, but didn’t reach 800. Either Mexican flu (or the testing labs) took the weekend off, or it’s possibly slowing down.

Swine flu arrives in Australia

30 05 2009

I think we are getting to the stage where it’s pretty hard to deny that the current A/H1N1 Mexican Flu is a pandemic strain of flu. This made a lot of what I was planning to blog a bit obsolete (that’s why you should blog direct).

This week in Australia confirmed cases have been pretty much doubling each day. When I was putting together my flu resources for blogging on Tuesday, it was in the 20s. On Wednesday it jumped to just over 50. Yesterday it was near 100. Ten Late News just told me it’s 209. Will it be 1000 by the end of the weekend, or maybe it’ll hit a peak by 500?

The good(?) thing about the current form of the virus is that while it appears highly infectious, it doesn’t seem particularly lethal or morbid. But it doesn’t change the fact that influenza is a potentially lethal disease – so the less people who get infected in the first place the better (that’s directed at you anti-vax wingnuts and idiots planning swine flu parties). It also isn’t reassuring that the Spanish Influenza pandemic in the early 20th century was initially mild(-ish) and became increasiningly virulent.

Some stories from the past week of pandemic emergence:

To follow the Australian governments official pandemic phase alert, visit here.

For global information – I recommend the Google-Rhiza Labs interactive map project by Dr Niman.

Pandemic panic epidemic

28 05 2009

I have a few posts lined up about swine flu. With Australian cases of A/H1N1 Mexican influenza have been steadily creeping up, I should try and get them out before we all die or something.

But i’ll take my chances and post them tomorrow, it’s getting quite late.

However I just loved that one of my friends back home pasted this on facebook. The local paper is panicking that some cruise ship that dropped of some infected passengers in Sydney (more about them later) has detoured so that instead of being distantly offshore of the Queensland coast in the Great Barrier Reef, it is now slightly less distantly offshore of the Queensland coast in the Great Barrier Reef. [Insert dramatic tone].

I’m struggling to work out how exactly it could travel along the east side of Australia without at some point being “off the coast of Rockhampton” (I’m going to just ignore the Bully momentarily forgetting that Rockhampton is not on the coast).