New Zealand Ministry of Health’s initiative to track influenza online welcomed by many
The initiative of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health to gather information for better understanding of influenza had proved to be a popular move.
Ministry of Health Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay is thrilled with the turnout of people who signed up online. She said that more than 3500 people have signed up to New Zealand’s first online campaign to monitor influenza since its launch two months ago.
The Ministry is hoping that more people will continue to sign up because the more number of people are involved, the better the understanding for seasonal influenza will be. Therefore, the Ministry will be able to prepare for it better.
FluTracking is a project that harnesses the power of the internet for tracking influenza. It is an online health surveillance system to detect epidemics of influenza. The Ministry encourages people to take part as this will contribute to scientific research. This will allow them to track influenza, both in the local and nationwide community.
Dr McElnay explained that influenza is a significant public health issue in New Zealand with 10-20% of all New Zealanders getting infected. Some situations worsen that the patients end up needing hospital care. On average, around 400 people die from influenza or from complications relating to it each year.
FluTracking provides an alternative was of understanding influenza trends so that the country can be more prepared for the highly contagious disease. It is a simple online survey that takes less than 10 seconds each week during flu season.
She added that FluTracking is already providing useful information, which matches the surveillance systems that are already in place around New Zealand. It has enabled people to be actively involved in monitoring influenza-like illness in the country.
She furthered that although New Zealand already has an existing comprehensive surveillance system that monitors influenza; FluTracking is the only one that allows people to participate directly.
She explained during its initial introduction, “Individuals and families can make a real contribution through FluTracking. And as with any new online tool, the more people who participate, the more accurate the data across New Zealand will be.”
Dr Elnay also said that results will soon be released from a study that the Ministry commissioned about a wide range of other complementary data sources such as over the counter medicine sales, and absences incurred from school and work.
Moreover, they are also determining if healthline calls and online search behaviour for health information can also be considered as viable sources of inputs which can be used as early warning systems for influenza. The information gathered from these sources may prove useful as early indicators of potential outbreaks.