Google Aims to Provide Early Warning of Flu Outbreaks
A new tool called Google Flu Trends uses data from search-engine queries to estimate flu activity in your area at a faster pace than traditional flu surveillance systems. The website includes graphs and a map that describe the intensity of flu outbreaks throughout the United States. There appears to be a close connection between how many people enter flu-related search terms and how many people are currently sick with the flu, Google says. The company acknowledges that not everyone who searches for "flu" is actually sick but says that it sees a pattern when all Google flu queries from each state and region are added together. The company uses IP addresses to determine the location of the computers from which the search queries are submitted.
Traditional surveillance systems take between one and two weeks to collect and release data, while online-search queries can be automatically calculated more quickly. Google says it hopes that releasing its data will provide early warning of flu outbreaks.
Preventing Breast Cancer 101
You'd think that breast cancer would be the furthest thing from a 14-year-old's mind. But nearly as soon as they grow breasts, many girls begin to fear the worst, Katherine Hobson reports. "They are full of misinformation. They worry that being bumped in the breasts will put them at higher risk," says Marisa Weiss, an oncologist in Philadelphia whose own college-age daughter recalls that she kept her puberty-era worries under wraps. Weiss, who founded the nonprofit informational group breastcancer.org, wanted to ease girls' fears—but also tell them how they might reduce their eventual risk of the disease. So, she has been talking to them and their mothers at school assemblies over the past 18 months.
A Preop Shower to Reduce Infections
Infections following surgery are a big target right now, Avery Comarow reports. The folks in Medicare have put a new rule in place withholding additional payments to hospitals that run up extra expenses because a patient develops certain preventable complications, one of which is a surgical site infection. The Aggravated DocSurg blog reports that many surgeons used to tell patients to take a shower with a disinfectant soap before coming to the hospital. The reasoning was that even though patients would don their clothing and hours might pass before they were taken into the OR, the bacterial count on their skin was considerably lower than for patients who didn't shower with an antimicrobial soap. Fewer bacteria meant fewer surgical site infections, they figured.
A 2006 analysis of six different trials involving more than 10,000 patients found that fewer bugs on the skin as a result of showering with antimicrobial soap didn't equate to fewer infections following surgery. But another study published a few months ago in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons seemed to redeem the value of preop antimicrobial use. Comarow explains why the new study doesn't necessarily mean what it seems to mean.
Earlier, Comarow blogged about the proposed Medicare rule for withholding payments.
—January W. Payne