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5 Ways technology can help prevent the flu

By: Lynn LeCluyse

That dreaded time of year spanning from fall to early spring is upon us—flu season.

Meticulous hand washing, daily vitamins and getting plenty of rest are traditional methods for avoiding this illness. But did you know that technology also plays an important role in flu prevention?

According to Dr. Craig Conover, an internist who is board certified and has 23 years of experience in infectious disease medicine, the following technology-related innovations can be beneficial when it comes to surviving flu season:

 Tracking Flu Trends Online

Websites that track the flu allow users to view its prevalence in different locations, alerting them when to take extra precautionary measures.

For instance, Google Flu Trends counts flu-related search queries to estimate its frequency in countries and regions around the world. This site presents its estimates using data, graphs and video.

Mining feeds from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can also help users track the flu and gather information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses social media as one of several channels to reach out to the public with health and safety information that informs and influences health decision making,”Austyn Dukes, a health communication specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. “Integrating social media into health communication activities increases the availability of our health messages as well as the means for influencers to share those messages.”

Using the Web to Find Vaccine Locations and Wellness Events

One of the most popular methods of flu prevention is getting a flu shot. According to Joan Holden, a nurse practitioner and associate director of Loyola University Chicago’s Wellness Center, the flu shot does not completely guarantee prevention, but is a precautionary measure that students are encouraged to take each year.

Holden said the Wellness Center uses Twitter and the Wellness Center’s web page to advertise its free flu shots for students and to promote events such as flu clinics.

Getting Quicker Diagnosis Results

New and improved tests are becoming more readily available to inform patients whether or not they have the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screening tests called influenza rapid diagnostic tests can provide results within 15 minutes. These tests, which usually require a quick and painless nasal swab, provide speedy and accurate results.

Purchasing Air Filters and UV Light Bulbs to Kill Germs

Living in close corridors with someone who has the flu? Infection control technologies can help kill germs.

According to a news report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can remove nearly 98 percent of virus particles.

Installing an ultraviolet light can also help reduce germs. UV light is antimicrobial, meaning it can prevent the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.

Although they are effective, these prevention methods come at a cost. UV lamps and HEPA filters typically run from about $180-$370.

Using Websites and Apps to Find Reliable Doctors Near You

In the event that the inevitable happens and flu symptoms are rampant, websites and apps can be used to provide tips or quickly and efficiently find a location for treatment.

The Fight the Flu mobile app is a free app that allows users to check symptoms and gather prevention tips using email alerts.

Zocdoc is a website and free app that helps patients find a doctor and make an appointment online. The free service’s verified doctor reviews and ratings by patients set it apart from ordinary hospital or health insurance websites.

The Zocdoc home page quickly filters users’ results based on a criteria including type of doctor, insurance carrier, and location.

Learn more about the Google Flu Trends and Flu Near You Web applications:

AP Photo/Rich Schultz

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.