Doctors may soon use computers to forecast flu outbreaks

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-07 18:25:53-05

NEW YORK, N.Y. (CBS News) —  Much like meteorologists forecast the weather, doctors could one day forecast who will get the flu months in advance.

A doctor at Columbia University is putting the finishing touches on a computer system that is much like the one that forecasts rain and snow. It will tell them which states could have the worst flu cases and how many people will get sick.

“There is no reason why we couldn’t see in the foreseeable future where we predict there is a 60-percent likelihood that the flu will peak in six weeks in a certain town,” Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, PhD with Columbia University, said.

Doctors say they’re unsure if the program could actually help prevent the flu, but the believe it can help them better prepare for an outbreak of the illness by allowing them to get more flu shots to cities where outbreaks are expected and by allowing more people there to get vaccinated.