Tracking flu outbreaks can help you stay healthy

Knowing when the flu hits your city can help you stay a step ahead and hopefully avoid getting sick.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read
How to track the flu

Tracking flu activity in your area can help prevent you from getting sick.

Yuri Arcurs peopleimages.com / Getty Images

No one wants the flu, but for some people, it can be life-threatening. If you've ever had the flu, you know just how bad the symptoms can be. From a sore throat, cough, aches, chills and a high fever -- it's not fun and can lead to more serious issues, even death in severe cases. In fact, the CDC estimates that from October 2018-May 2019, there were 37.4 million-42.9 million reported flu illnesses, and between 36,400-61,200 deaths from the flu.

If those numbers aren't enough to make you want to get a flu shot, then just talk to someone who had the flu last year and, chances are, they'll tell you they wish they would have gotten the shot. 

Read more: Clean these 5 things to protect against the flu

Getting a flu shot is one way to protect yourself, and you can also prevent exposure by avoiding areas with a flu outbreak by keeping track of flu activity in areas that you live or will visit. Keep reading to learn more about why you should track the flu and how to do it.

The 17 best health and fitness apps for Apple Watch

See all photos

Why you should track the flu 

There are several reasons you may want to keep track of flu activity, primarily that you'll know when it's active in your area. If this is the case, you'll want to be sure you're vaccinated to prevent the chance of getting sick. 

Knowing that there is flu in your area may also prompt you to get a vaccination sooner, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and infectious disease expert. "Tracking the flu is helpful for the general public who are planning when to get their vaccination — they may have procrastinated and knowing that flu activity is occurring near their location may prompt them to get vaccination," Adalja told CNET. 

How to track the flu

The flu shot is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of getting the flu.

/ Getty Images

Additionally, Adalja said tracking the flu is important for community organizers, educators or people who work at schools and event planners since certain events and gatherings may not be ideal during a bad outbreak in a community.

"If you are in an area with an outbreak, it's important to be vaccinated and to practice good hygiene (frequent hand washing). Also, if you have symptoms it's important to seek evaluation especially if you have unremitting fever, shortness of breath, are pregnant, or at high-risk for flu complications because of pre-existing medical problems," Adalja said.

Again, one of the best ways to actively prevent the flu is through immunization, but if you're looking for other ways to prevent it, tracking can help. That's especially important for people who cannot get vaccinated or have compromised immune systems, like pregnant . 

How to track the flu

A variety of websites and apps provide flu tracking services that let you see where the flu is active. Some sites also provide predictions or "risk assessments" for your area in the future. Most of these sites are driven by data collected from official health professionals, but a few (like Flu Near You) rely on crowdsourcing, and you can report your own symptoms directly if you'd like. 

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

Everyday Health Flu Map

The Everyday Health Flu Map allows you to enter your ZIP code and the system generates flu risk and predictions for the upcoming season for your location. The map will tell you if your area is considered a moderate or severe risk in the next month.

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

Flu Near You

Flu Near You displays a map of areas where there's flu activity from user-reported symptoms as well as from reports from the CDC. You can report your own symptoms (even if you're not sure if it's a flu diagnosis yet) to help the site keep track of data in real time. You can also see what the average flu activity is like across the country in the past seven days.

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

CDC Weekly Flu Map

The CDC Flu Map shows the number of reported cases and flu activity in each state (Note: The map has not been updated yet for the 2019-2020 flu season). The CDC updates the reports weekly during flu season and also compares the current trends to previous flu seasons.

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET


Sickweather is an app that relies on "social media forecasting" to gather data on where the flu is active in metropolitan areas. The app then makes an assessment of how much risk is in your area and can forecast future trends. 

Keep in mind that Sickweather uses crowdsourcing and social media to make its predictions, but according to the website, the data is "regularly correlated and validated against available data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)."

Read more: An AI-created flu vaccine starts testing in the US

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.