Evaluating Google flu trends in Latin america: important lessons for the next phase of digital disease detection

Simon Pollett*, W. John Boscardin, Eduardo Azziz-Baumgartner, Yeny O. Tinoco, Giselle Soto, Candice Romero, Jen Kok, Matthew Biggerstaff, Cecile Viboud, George W. Rutherford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Background. Latin America has a substantial burden of influenza and rising Internet access and could benefit from real-time influenza epidemic prediction web tools such as Google Flu Trends (GFT) to assist in risk communication and resource allocation during epidemics. However, there has never been a published assessment of GFT's accuracy inmost Latin American countries or in any low- to middle-income country. Our aim was to evaluate GFT in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Methods. Weekly influenza-test positive proportions for the eight countries were obtained from FluNet for the period January 2011-December 2014. Concurrent weekly Google-predicted influenza activity in the same countries was abstracted from GFT. Pearson correlation coefficients between observed and Google-predicted influenza activity trends were determined for each country. Permutation tests were used to examine background seasonal correlation between FluNet and GFT by country. Results. There were frequent GFT prediction errors, with correlation ranging from r = -0.53 to 0.91. GFT-predicted influenza activity best correlated with FluNet data in Mexico follow byUruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. Correlation was generally highest in the more temperate countries with more regular influenza seasonality and lowest in tropical regions. A substantial amount of autocorrelation was noted, suggestive that GFT is not fully specific for influenza virus activity. Conclusions. We note substantial inaccuracies with GFT-predicted influenza activity compared with FluNet throughout Latin America, particularly among tropical countries with irregular influenza seasonality. Our findings offer valuable lessons for future Internet- based biosurveillance tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-41
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Digital epidemiology
  • Google flu trends
  • Latin america


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