Can Big Data Predict Epidemics?

Can Big Data Predict Epidemics?
© Provided by Esquire

Big Data today is presented as the magic solution to all modern problems. The term is now heard very often both in the Media and in daily discussions. But there are very few who know exactly what this is about. In essence and in general we are dealing with “Big Data”, data that have such a huge volume that it is practically impossible to process them based on traditional methods. Consider Internet searches for example: How many millions of people are typing the word “flu” right now in dozens of different languages?

So the question arises as to whether or not Big Data can help us with the flu epidemics that the planet is facing every year. A quick look at the term “flu” in the useful Google Trends tool is truly revealing.

Flu Epidemic
© Provided by Esquire Flu Epidemic

Does this mean that Big Data can’t finally help us with the flu?

In 2019 almost no one looked for the term. In December, a time when flu traditionally appeared, measurements showed an increase from 2 or 6 out of 100 points to 21 points. Nothing strange so far, since this is seen almost every year. But when the news of the corona-virus epidemic began to make its way around the planet, searches (between January 26 and February 2) soared reaching even 100 out of 100 (!) units.

Much progress has been made in recent years, after investing heavily in research into how Big Data can help us with the flu epidemic. Thus, we have the opportunity at any time and moment to track how many people are searching for “suspicious” terms on the internet (flu, sneezing, fever, and more). The main problem, however, remains the following:

“We are able to know how many are looking for these terms, but we cannot be sure why they are looking for them”,

as recently stated in “Popular Science” Dr. Dave Osthus, winner of the competition organized by the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention for epidemic prediction models.

Interestingly enough, the “Google Flu Trends” tool, which recorded influenza epidemics, started operating in 2008, but has been shut down for five years. Does this mean that Big Data can’t finally help us with the flu? Surely -especially in emergencies, such as in the case of the corona-virus- user searches are not always a good indication; they are very likely to be driven by the prevailing global panic climate. In any case, Big Data is a very useful tool against epidemics. Just as every tool is not a panacea in itself.

Esquire
Source: Esquire
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