When you’re feeling under the weather it’s usually good manners to keep your germs to yourself, but a national surveillance system is encouraging the community to share their symptoms this flu season.
Flutracking.net, the largest online influenza-like illness surveillance system of its kind in the world, is designed to alert health officials to epidemic outbreaks of the potentially life-threatening disease.
Now in its 10th year, the initiative by researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, maps influenza prevalence across Australia.
Flutracking.net co-ordinator Dr Craig Dalton* said Flutracking asks residents of Australia to complete a 10-second weekly online survey about whether they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Participants don’t need to be experiencing symptoms to join the survey.
“With a few clicks of a button from volunteers across the country, we receive information that allows health professionals to see where flu is hitting hardest and gauge its severity,” Dr Dalton said.
“We are keen to hear from people who are not experiencing any flu symptoms just as much as those who are, and more importantly, we encourage people to join now before the flu hits.”
Dr Dalton added that the Northern Hemisphere had experienced a severe influenza season due to the predominance of the H3N2 influenza virus, which had a mismatch with the vaccine, hitting people over 65 years particularly hard.
“The vaccine being used in Australia is different to the Northern Hemisphere vaccine and is therefore expected to provide better protection”
Dr Dalton said the 2014 study attracted a record number of participants – more than 18,000 people most weeks.
“Flutracking hopes to add another 3000 participants this year so please encourage your friends and work colleagues to participate in the survey and track the flu in your area,” he said.
People can register at www.flutracking.net where they will be asked to complete the brief survey each Monday morning from May until October. On completing each week’s survey, participants will be directed to the latest flu map and weekly report.
*Dr Craig Dalton is a Hunter New England Health public health physician and a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Health and Medicine, 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.