A new app developed by MIT Connection Science and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline uses crowdsourced data to track the flu in real time.
As flu activity continues to increase in the United States, public health officials are continually monitoring new cases and tracking outbreaks of flu across the country. Recently, developers have created a new way to track the flu as it spreads: A phone app called Flumoji.
Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the app was designed to promote awareness of flu spread and symptoms as well as provide educational materials on reducing the risk of infection. The app uses crowdsourced data to track the flu in real-time, prompting FiercePharma to remark in a press release, “It’s like Waze for the flu.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2016-2017 flu season has already reached epidemic proportions in the United States. In fact, in CDC’s FluView summary for the week ending January 28, seven additional flu-associated pediatric deaths had been reported. As the number of cases continues to increase, promoting awareness and increasing preventive efforts are imperative.
Because we are living in an age of technology, one of the best ways to reach individuals is through an app on their cell phones. The app, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Connection Science, is a part of a study, which is estimated to run from November 2016 to April 2017—roughly the length of an average flu season. Once you sign up for the study, the app will track “a variety of real-time data from a user’s phone in order to detect fluctuations in a user’s activity levels, social levels, and general routine.” According to FiercePharma, “The activity data is combined with traditional flu tracking data from the CDC to help determine outbreaks.” When the study ends, the app will be removed from the app store and data will cease to be collected from enrolled users. Currently, according to Google Play data, the app has been installed on 500-1,000 phones.
Given that user engagement is important, the developers decided to include a number of original emojis designed to help users identify any symptoms they are experiencing on any given day. For example, the symptom emojis range from fatigue to sneezing to runny noses, and if it’s a flu day, a very sick-looking emoji complete with a thermometer. If users are not experiencing any symptoms, they can report on the current mood they are in.
In an email interview with FiercePharma, Mary Anne Rhyne, a GSK director of external communications for Research & Development in the United States, stated, “Mobile phones are a widely available and efficient way to monitor patient health. GSK has been using them in its studies to monitor activity and vital signs in study patients, and collect patient feedback to improve decision making in the development of new medicines. Tracking the flu is just the latest test of this technology.”
This is not the first time that GSK has delved into supporting developmental efforts pertaining to the flu. In addition to developing flu vaccines such as Flulaval and Fluarix, the “science-led global healthcare company” is also a sponsor for the Weather Channel’s Cold and Flu Tracker, which shows the number of infected individuals in a given geographic area and educates app users on what to do if they with an individual who may be infected.
The CDC reminds the public that one of the best ways to protect yourself against the flu is to get vaccinated. Over 144 million doses of the seasonal influenza vaccine have been administered, and even though it is now February, it’s not too late to receive your flu shot. The makers of Flumoji are encouraging users to download their app with the catchy tagline, “This flu season, let’s outspread the flu virus with the number of Flumoji downloads…Don’t spread the flu, spread Flumoji!"