Sickweather app tracks sickness through social media posts

Shows what illnesses are going around and where
Posted at 5:41 PM, Jan 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-18 17:41:31-05

There are new concerns about this flu season. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control said it's widespread through every state except Hawaii.

So far, 20 children have died from the flu. In parts of the country, hospitals are overwhelmed and overflowing, especially in California where there have been more than 50 flu-related deaths in San Diego County alone.

In Maryland, the flu is widespread but it isn't hitting as hard. Just over 1,500 people have visited doctors and hospitals for flu-related illness. While numbers are low, you can take extra steps to protect yourself.

Sickweather is an app that tracks sicknesses through public social media posts.

It originated in Cockeysville and has since gone global. The three co-founders of Sickweather met at Dulaney High School, now their app is helping moms and others attempt to beat any bugs or illness by tracking them on a live map.

Your Facebook share may be doing more than garnering sympathy. Your post is a little piece of information that could become data that's funneled into a web of sick reports.

“Sickweather is like the Doppler radar or Waze if you prefer of illness. We scrape social media data. We also get data intake from a number of our partners,” said Michael Belt, co-founder and chief technology officer for Sickweather.

Public posts that show what symptoms and where are added to a map for users to see how close it is and whether there are other similar reports.

“Sickweather came from an idea that my co-founder, Graham [Dodge], had. He's our CEO. He woke up one morning with a ripping bad stomach virus and sat there thinking where he caught it,” Belt said.

The app isn't so someone can find patient zero but rather figure out what you may need on hand to beef up your immune system.

“As a regular person, you might just want to know what to prepare for,” said Belt.

Currently, flu reports are down in the app and that's on track with the state's influenza surveillance reporting.

Last week, there were 152 outpatient visits for flu-related illness, which is down from the week prior.

While Sickweather can give you a heads up it can't make you immune, which is why you should get a flu shot. 

“We still do recommend it even if it's less effective one year compared to other years,” said Dr. Travis Thompson, an attending physician with MedStar Health.

But if you happen to come down with something, here's how to know if it is the flu.

“It's kind of your upper respiratory infection type symptoms: runny nose, cough, sore throat, headaches, a lot of people get back pain we call it myalgia, it's muscle aches and pains. A lot of people say they feel like they got hit by a bus, essentially just everything hurts. Sometimes fever, sometimes not, it just really depends,” said Dr. Thompson.

For an added fee you can directly connect with a doctor on the app. And it has a family group option where you can monitor sicknesses among family and friends and post messages directly to locations.

If you think you have the flu, call your primary care doctor first or visit Urgent Care before going to the emergency department.