CDC Competition Encourages Use of Social Media to Predict Flu

November 25, 2013 — CDC has launched the “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge,” a competition designed to foster innovation in flu activity modeling and prediction. The registrant who most successfully predicts the timing, peak and intensity of the 2013-2014 flu season using social media data (e.g., Twitter, internet search data, web surveys) will receive an award of $75,000 and CDC recognition. Full details of the contest requirements – including eligibility rules, how to enter the contest, and scoring – are available via the official contest announcement at

CDC monitors flu activity each year using routine flu surveillance systems that do not utilize social media data or predict flu activity. With this challenge, CDC hopes to encourage exploration into how social media data can be used to predict flu activity and supplement CDC’s routine systems for monitoring flu.

Each year, annual flu epidemics with variable timing and intensity occur in the United States and around the world. Early insights into the timing and intensity of the flu season could be very useful to public health officials for vaccination campaigns, communicating to the public, allocating resources, and implementing strategies to combat the spread of flu disease.

Challenge and prize competitions – employed by more than 50 agencies across the Federal Government – allow federal agencies to seek innovative solutions from a variety of audiences at a much lower cost than traditional funding mechanisms. In his September 2009 Strategy for American Innovation, President Obama called on agencies to promote innovation to solve tough problems.

Using challenges and prize competitions to drive innovation has had some famous successes, including NASA’s recent competitions prompting development of robotic technology for future Mars rovers and space missions, and the 2004 Ansari X Prize, which led to the first private team building and launching a spacecraft capable of carrying people.

Flu represents a significant public health problem that affects millions of Americans and is associated with hospitalizations and deaths in people of all ages every year in the United States. This challenge calls upon the public’s creativity and imagination to help examine new methods and technology to address this longstanding health issue.

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