The work of Richard Rothman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is more fundamental: to save lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta predicts flu outbreaks, once it examines reports from hospitals. That takes weeks. In 2009, a study seemed to suggest researchers could predict outbreaks much faster by analyzing millions of Google searches.
Spikes in queries like “My kid is sick” signaled a flu outbreak before the CDC knew there would be one. That posed a new question for Dr. Rothman and his colleague Andrea Dugas:
Could Google help predict influenza outbreaks in time to allow hospitals like the one at Johns Hopkins to get ready?