New technology that tracks fevers, fatigue and other symptoms of the flu can help predict when the illness is in your area — and potentially help you avoid getting sick.

With real-time flu data, you would know when to be extra vigilant about healthy habits, such washing your hands, and when it would be best to stay home from school or work to prevent getting the flu from others. 

“If you know what’s going around, then you can respond, and that helps everyone around you,” says Inder Singh, founder and CEO of Kinsa Health, which makes smartphone-connected thermometers. “Together we can be healthier if we just have that early detection.”

The deadliness of the flu

Marked by fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and fatigue, the flu is a contagious upper respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. 

The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in over a decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were 79,000 flu-associated deaths. More than 170,000 adults were hospitalized last year — a record high — and 185 children died from the illness.   

This year’s flu season is underway, and it’s already deadly. An unvaccinated child died from the illness in October. 

People with the flu are most contagious during the first 3-4 days of their illness. Antiviral medicines to treat the flu are most effective when taken in the first 48 hours.

Vaccines are the best protection from getting the flu but good habits, such as washing hands and staying away from sick people, can help fight off the germs, too. The CDC advises people who get the flu to stay home from work or school.

Staying prepared by keeping an eye open

Aggregated, anonymous health data collected by smart thermometers can help map illnesses as they happen, and predict where the illness where spread. Here’s how it works: 

  1. Consumers log their temperatures and other symptoms on the thermometers, which connect to apps on their phone or on the internet. The company anonymizes the data and uses it to help track illnesses, including the flu, in real time.

  2. That data can show where sick people are reporting illnesses. This can serve as a warning to healthy people to stock up on supplies such as tissues and hand sanitizer in order to prevent getting sick, or spreading germs to others. 

  3. Companies use the data on who is getting sick to encourage employees to get vaccinated and, in some cases, offer remote working options when illness is high, reducing flu-related absenteeism and the spread of illness.