Flu season reliably arrives around this time every year — but where the virus heads and how it will spread can seem wildly unpredictable. Now, artificial intelligence is playing a bigger role in trying to change that.
One startup is using data collected from thermometers to develop algorithms to derive insights about flu activity that it could sell to retailers, consumer-goods makers, and perhaps even health systems. Academic researchers are refining sophisticated AI models, including using machine learning and statistical methods to recognize patterns and map out future trajectories.
There’s tremendous value in being able to accurately predict the flu’s path, and in particular, when the season will peak. Researchers and companies argue that better flu forecasting could help public health officials more accurately time their messaging or mobilize resources when a dangerous strain is likely to hit a given region hard. Hospitals could plan ahead, making sure they’re staffed up and have beds available as the worst stretch of flu season in their area approaches. Retailers and manufacturers could plan for high demand for cold and flu medications. People who are the most vulnerable to flu — including the elderly, people with asthma, and young children — could be warned when they need to take extra precautions, like avoiding public spaces.