A method for estimating from thermometer sales the incidence of diseases that are symptomatically similar to influenza
Early detection and accurate characterization of disease outbreaks are important tasks of public health. Infectious diseases that present symptomatically like influenza (SLI), including influenza itself, constitute an important class of diseases that are monitored by public-health epidemiologists. Monitoring emergency department (ED) visits for presentations of SLI could provide an early indication of the presence, extent, and dynamics of such disease in the population. We investigated the use of daily over-the-counter thermometer-sales data to estimate daily ED SLI counts in Allegheny County (AC), Pennsylvania. We found that a simple linear model fits the data well in predicting daily ED SLI counts from daily counts of thermometer sales in AC. These results raise the possibility that this model could be applied, perhaps with adaptation, in other regions of the country, where commonly thermometer sales data are available, but daily ED SLI counts are not.