A unique online survey tracking critical data on influenza infection that alerts medical officials to large outbreaks of the virus is being launched nationally.
Flutracking.net, an initiative of researchers from Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle aims to recruit at least 2,000 people across Australia to complete a 15 second weekly survey on flu-like symptoms.
Lead researcher Public Health Physician Dr Craig Dalton said Flutracking.net would be an invaluable resource for the health sector.
"Participants are asked to spend a very short time each week filling out an online survey on whether they have a fever, cough, or are having time off work due to flu-like symptoms."
"The project will help us to work out where and when an outbreak of flu has occurred, the severity of the flu strain and whether the influenza strains have changed."
"Flutracking.net also helps us gauge the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine as one of the first questions we ask when people sign up to the survey is whether they have had a flu shot."
The survey began as a pilot study in 2006 with around 400 people taking part. Last year the number of participants doubled and already Flutracking.net is providing valuable information to the health sector.
"The 2007 influenza season was a particularly severe one," Dr Dalton said.
"There was concern early in the season that the influenza vaccine may not be as effective as expected but Flutracking.net showed quite marked differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated participants with much lower rates in vaccinated participants."
"Not only does the survey allow health professionals to better prepare for the potential for outbreaks of the virus in specific regions and communities, the data is also useful for directing public health action."
Anyone with regular access to email and the internet is encouraged to take part in the survey.
People can register at http://www.flutracking.net and they will be asked to complete a brief survey each Monday morning during the traditional influenza season (May 1 to October 30).