The initiative of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health
to gather information for better understanding of influenza had proved to be a
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
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.