Private companies are mining data to give a more real-time look at illness in communities like Augusta and it is showing a lot of flu virus in the area, with some near historically high levels.
Kinsa, which makes a smart thermometer that allows users to upload data to its app, is using those reports to say that Georgia is the sickest state for flu right now, with about 7 percent or 718,000 stricken, while 6.9 percent of people in Augusta are battling the bug.
Similarly, a new web site called DoctorsReport.com launched its Illness Tracker on Wednesday that uses diagnostic reports from physician offices and clinics to allow people to track 15 different illnesses, from flu to Lyme disease, by Zip code or area. According to its data, flu is at 4 out of a possible 10 on the severity scale for downtown Augusta but is at a 6.5 for Aiken and 9.5 for Evans and North Augusta. Flu rates an 8.5 for the nation overall. The company’s severity scale is based on an algorithm that uses the number of cases reported compared to other areas of the country and to historical trend data for that Zip code or area, founder Dan Shaw said. So an area that is at 9.5/10 would be near its historic high, he said.
The company said it has a supplier that gathers reports from 900,000 physician offices across the country as they file reports to payers such as insurance companies or government programs, Shaw said. Illness reports are then created by looking at the ICD-10 billing codes from the claims. The company typically captures about 70 percent of all of those claims filed, Shaw said.
“As far as I know, it’s the biggest database of its kind,” he said.
The reports can be anywhere from 48 hours to up to 7 days old by the time the data is collected but is still much faster than some other conventional reporting methods, Shaw said.
“It’s the fastest you will see that data generally,” he said.
The company’s free app will soon be customizable to show data from specific areas on a single screen but that information can also be gleaned from the Web site, which Shaw said can allow people to monitor what is going on in their area and serve as a precaution.
“I think that’s a good indication of your likelihood of receiving that illness, if you are not careful, in your neighborhood,” he said.
Looking at its trend data for downtown Augusta, the most severe illness was from respiratory syncytial virus, which causes congestion and cold symptoms typically in children, which was at a 9/10 for severity or nearing the high for that Zip code, with a sharp increase in cases during the last week. The next worst was otitis media or ear infections, at 5/10, followed by flu, gastroenteritis or “stomach flu,” colds and pneumonia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a FluView report every week during flu season but that is typically for data from the previous week and some reports, such as for hospitalizations and deaths, may have a greater lag time than that. The CDC relies on sentinel physician offices and some hospitals to provide reports about flu-like illness that it then publishes as a percentage of all office visits or ER visits. Last week, the influenza-like illness rate for the nation was at 7.1 percent, an increase from the previous week of 6.6 percent, while Georgia’s rate was 14.3 percent and South Carolina’s was 15.4 percent, both increases from the previous week.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.