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Tech Company Aims To Forecast Illness

By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You can plan for rain or snow based on the forecast, but what about catching cold or flu?  A website promises to predict where illnesses are spreading. collects location-based complaints from Twitter and Facebook.

“Someone posts like ‘I’m sick’ or ‘I have a cold’ or ‘I have the flu’ and it’s made public and it has the geolocation information attached to it. We qualify 600,000 reports of illness each month in the US.”

CEO Graham Dodge says it’s everything from allergies and common cold to pink eye, and worse.

“We have a patent-pending process that sort of filters posts like ‘I have the flu’ or ‘I have fever’ versus posts like ‘I have Bieber fever.’  Then we qualify that and plot it on a map and create these forecasts.”

The map looks almost like weather radar, showing where people are saying on social media that they feel ill. When those reports start to pile up, they’re grouped into orange lines and shapes warning of a danger zone.

Take last flu season for example: “We were able to identify and announce the early start about six weeks before the CDC also announced it and confirmed we were, in fact, experiencing an early flu season.”

Dodge says his team works with advisors from Johns Hopkins University.

“We’ve had some testimonials from our users. In one case, a mother let us know that she was able to stock up on that allergy medication one week before her kids developed symptoms, thanks to our forecast.”

A mobile app is coming next month.

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