Swine flu has hit college campuses, with 165 schools reporting 1,640 new cases of flulike illnesses last week, according to a nifty new system that will help parents stay up to speed on the situation at their children's schools. It's just one of a growing number of tools designed to keep us civilians in the know on the pandemic flu outbreak, which public health officials expect to hit children and young adults hardest.
Click on the American College Health Association's new Pandemic Influenza Surveillance Report, and you'll find that Georgia and Washington state reported the most flulike illnesses on campus, with 283 reported at Georgia schools and 233 in Washington. The association also provides a helpful chart of attack rates, which tracks what percentage of students have become ill. This week, Washington has a higher attack rate than Georgia, even though Georgia has more cases. Of course, many of these cases will turn out to be caused by something other than the H1N1 virus. But over time, the numbers should give public health officials—and parents—a good idea of where the flu is hitting hardest. If I had a child in college in Washington or Georgia, I'd sure as heck want to know now how the school plans to reduce the risk of infection and take care of sick students. I'd also want my child to know the symptoms of swine flu (sudden onset of fever and cough) and to call home if they even get as much as a sniffle. The ACHA report will be updated every Tuesday, and I hope an RSS feed or E-mail update will be added to the report to make it supereasy to stay up to date.
Another new tool for flu intel is the HealthMap outbreak tracker, which you can find online at HealthMap.org, and its new iPhone app, Outbreaks Near Me. Outbreaks Near Me rests in my iPhone right next to the Cube Runner game my 14-year-old nephew downloaded last week. After fiddling with both Web site and app, I found the site a bit easier to navigate. But the app lets you choose between the phone's location and a remote spot and also easily upload your own case reports. The map, which was developed by Children's Hospital Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, isn't based on official info about confirmed cases but rather on reports from a variety of sources, including the World Health Organization, a voluntary public health network called ProMed, and Google News. The ultimate source on swine flu cases is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's H1H1 Flu Situation Update. But since the CDC reports cases confirmed by doctors and public health departments, that number inevitably lags behind the true number of cases.
Google Flu Trends also tracks flu activity by monitoring how many people search for flu-related health information, then extrapolating that into an estimate of illnesses. The Google numbers have proven to come pretty darn close to actual reported cases, a result given greater cred when it was published last February in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. This week's maps show that the number of flu cases in North America is just starting to rise, while New Zealand, which has been slammed by H1N1 swine flu this summer, is in the midst of another spike.
Expect to see more and more health apps for the iPhone, including ones that could help parents of children with diabetes monitor their health from afar. And I reported last week about what colleges and universities are doing to manage swine flu on campus. The bottom line: Schools will stay open as long as they can, but be prepared to whisk a sick child home or help them deal with being voluntarily quarantined on campus. What has your child's school told you about its pandemic plans?