Background: Influenza infections can spread rapidly, and influenza outbreaks are a major public health concern worldwide. Early detection of signs of an influenza pandemic is important to prevent global outbreaks. Development of information and communications technologies for influenza surveillance, including participatory surveillance systems involving lay users, has recently increased. Many of these systems can estimate influenza activity faster than the conventional influenza surveillance systems. Unfortunately, few of these influenza-tracking systems are available in Japan.
Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the flu-tracking ability of Flu-Report, a new influenza-tracking mobile phone app that uses a self-administered questionnaire for the early detection of influenza activity.
Methods: Flu-Report was used to collect influenza-related information (ie, dates on which influenza infections were diagnosed) from November 2016 to March 2017. Participants were adult volunteers from throughout Japan, who also provided information about their cohabiting family members. The utility of Flu-Report was evaluated by comparison with the conventional influenza surveillance information and basic information from an existing large-scale influenza-tracking system (an automatic surveillance system based on electronic records of prescription drug purchases).
Results: Information was obtained through Flu-Report for approximately 10,094 volunteers. In total, 2134 participants were aged <20 years, 6958 were aged 20-59 years, and 1002 were aged ≥60 years. Between November 2016 and March 2017, 347 participants reported they had influenza or an influenza-like illness in the 2016 season. Flu-Report-derived influenza infection time series data displayed a good correlation with basic information obtained from the existing influenza surveillance system (rho, ρ=.65, P=.001). However, the influenza morbidity ratio for our participants was approximately 25% of the mean influenza morbidity ratio for the Japanese population. The Flu-Report influenza morbidity ratio was 5.06% (108/2134) among those aged <20 years, 3.16% (220/6958) among those aged 20-59 years, and 0.59% (6/1002) among those aged ≥60 years. In contrast, influenza morbidity ratios for Japanese individuals aged <20 years, 20-59 years, and ≥60 years were recently estimated at 31.97% to 37.90%, 8.16% to 9.07%, and 2.71% to 4.39%, respectively.
Conclusions: Flu-Report supports easy access to near real-time information about influenza activity via the accumulation of self-administered questionnaires. However, Flu-Report users may be influenced by selection bias, which is a common issue associated with surveillance using information and communications technologies. Despite this, Flu-Report has the potential to provide basic data that could help detect influenza outbreaks.
Keywords: epidemiology; influenza; internet; pandemics; participatory epidemiology; participatory surveillance.
©Kazutoshi Fujibayashi, Hiromizu Takahashi, Mika Tanei, Yuki Uehara, Hirohide Yokokawa, Toshio Naito. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 06.06.2018.