Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 23 (Part A):

This episode, “Flu Near You - Bringing the public into public health surveillance,” Pooja Bhandari interviews Michelle Holshue, RN, BSN, the American Public Health Association’s Flu Near You fellow, to discuss this new flu-tracking tool.

Hi Michelle. Thank you for being here with us today to talk about Flu Near You. For those of us who haven’t heard of Flu Near You, can you tell us more about it?
Sure! I’m excited to be here, so thanks for having me. Flu Near You is a first-of-its-kind, national tracking tool. It’s easy to use and it’s totally free. By allowing people all over the United States to sign up and report their flu symptoms, we hope that we can get the public excited about tracking the flu, and that we can all learn more about the flu in the process.

Flu Near You is a partnership between HealthMap, the Skoll Global Health Threats Fund, and the American Public Health Association.

Interesting. So, how does it work?
People can visit flunearyou.org to sign up. Anyone 13 years of age and older living in the United States can enroll into the Flu Near You system with their email address.

Every week, Flu Near You sends you an email to ask “How are you feeling?” Users report if they had any flu symptoms over the past week, like fever, coughing, sneezing or body aches. It’s a really short survey – it takes about a minute. Users can also choose to report flu symptoms for members of their family – for example, if they live with young children who are too young to take the survey, or perhaps an older family member who doesn’t have an email address.

And then after the survey is completed, their information is put anonymously on a map, based on zip code. The map also shows flu data from the CDC and Google Flu Trends, so users can see if there is flu in their community, or their state or across the country.

One of the coolest features, I think, is that the site is interactive. You can push “play” on the map and watch the flu season unfold week by week, like a movie. It’s pretty neat.

Why should the public be interested in Flu Surveillance?
I think a lot of people think that the flu is “no big deal” but in the US an average of 23,000 people die every year from influenza and related complications.

Many people get very sick from the flu, but not everyone who has the flu goes to their health care provider for diagnosis and treatment. So, Flu Near You was created with the hope that it will help us get a better picture of flu cases in the US, because people can report their symptoms from home.

We hope the public is interested in Flu Near You for 3 reasons: First, Flu Near You is great because it involves the public in disease surveillance – it allows people to be their own disease detectives, in a way. Second, The tool arms people with knowledge: By looking at the map every week, they’ll be able to know if flu cases are picking up in their area, and then hopefully they can take precautions to prevent themselves from getting sick, like getting the flu shot or practicing better hygiene. Finally, because it takes a few weeks to publish national data from traditional surveillance methods on flu activity, Flu Near You may offer an “early warning system” if people are reporting more flu symptoms.

That’s very interesting. So, how can I get involved as a member of the public?
Well, I’m glad you asked! The most helpful thing to do is to sign up today, before the flu season really picks up in the US! The more people we have reporting to our system, the better it will be. If people like the Flu Near You tool, I encourage them to tell friends, family members, and coworkers to sign up as well. American Public Health Association members are also encouraged to help spread the word about the Flu Near You tool, so we created a special challenge just for APHA members.

[If you're an APHA member, tune in to Part B of our podcast, where we’ll learn more about the Flu Near You Challenge.]

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

For more information about APHA’s Get Ready Campaign, visit www.APHAgetready.org.

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