October 31, 2014

Website tracks illness across the country

With this week’s rainy, chilly snap, many Iowans may be thinking ahead to cold and flu season — which isn’t far away. Graham Dodge is CEO and founder of the website www.sick-weather.com and says all you have to do is select a location, an illness and look at the map to see if any cases are being reported.

“We’re actually aggregating data from Facebook and Twitter,” Dodge says. “When people post things like, ‘My son has chicken pox,’ or ‘Norovirus is going around my school,’ or things like that and it’s made public, we can collect that information, map it and track it like it’s weather.” The website tracks a long list of ailments like allergies, bronchitis, chicken pox, ear infections, stomach flu and whooping cough. Dodge claims the data on the website is often weeks ahead of the “official” health department reports and it’s just as accurate.

“Up until this point, organizations like the CDC are relying upon hospitals and state health departments to report back to them,” Dodge says. “That usually takes about two weeks or longer. We found that our process, when compared to CDC’s data, is almost identical, with the exception that we’re two weeks ahead.” He says the website is a great tool for travelers from Iowa so they know what illness they may encounter wherever they may be heading — or to keep tabs on any local bugs going around.

“People can easily identify what’s going on in their area,” Dodge says. “For people with compromised immune systems who really need to avoid illnesses, it’s great information. For parents with kids in school, it’s good to know, when your kid comes home with a runny nose, if flu has already started or if it’s allergies or something else.” Access to the website “sick-weather-dot-com” is free and does not require any registration or passwords. Dodge calls it the Doppler radar for sickness.