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Epidemic reporters needed for national flu tracking

May 23 2012

The world’s fastest growing online influenza surveillance program is seeking more participants to register their symptoms and help researchers better understand the potentially life-threatening disease.

Flutracking.net, an Australian initiative of researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, is the second largest program of its kind in the world.

This flu season the program’s organisers are aiming to boost the total number of participants from approximately 12,000 to 15,000 to further increase the accuracy of the community influenza snapshot.

Flutracking coordinator Dr Craig Dalton* from Hunter New England Health said the program’s purpose was to alert health officials to large outbreaks of the debilitating virus.

“The information collected allows health professionals to better prepare for potential outbreaks in specific regions and direct public health action. For example, during the 2009 influenza pandemic, Flutracking gave health authorities a more complete understanding of the outbreak and increased knowledge to help address the situation,” Dr Dalton said.

Flutracking participants complete a 10-second weekly online survey about whether they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The survey involves volunteers from every state in Australia and each participant receives a weekly email update including an influenza activity map that reveals the nation’s influenza-like illness hot spots.

“Large employers are now circulating Flutracking survey invitations to their employees to raise awareness of flu as part of corporate wellness programs,” Dr Dalton said.

Anyone with regular access to email is encouraged to participate. People can register at www.flutracking.net and they will be asked to complete the brief survey each Monday morning until 30 October.

* Dr Dalton is a Public Health Physician and a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Health, and is supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.