Sickweather shows amazing potential but relies on self-diagnosis, honesty, and altruism. Too much potential for deceit.
Living in the United States in 2017, it is amazing that we still have such widespread illness related to common viruses and influenza. According to the Weekly U.S Surveillance Report from cdc.gov (As of 12/28/17), roughly half of the country is experiencing widespread flu activity. Locked mostly around the borders of the country, the central USA is experiencing temporary regional activity. Each year our experts create an informed/best-guess decision about the strains of influenza virus that we may see each year. According to Business Insider, the current vaccine missed on one of the most common influenza strains, H3N2. While scientists were incubating the virus to create the vaccine, the virus strain mutated. Now the strain in the vaccine and the wild strain are different enough to decrease the protective properties of the vaccine. Most years we can expect anywhere up to 60% effectiveness from our vaccines. Unfortunately, this year the vaccine is estimated to have only 10% effectiveness. The CDC expects that we are close to an influenza peak but to expect illness throughout March/April. So what can we do to stay safe?
Hand washing, covering your mouth with your elbow, not touching anything and staying home when you or other people are sick may be the best methods of protecting oneself from illness. What if there was an illness app that could test the local environment and detail the “Sickweather?” The 48.7 MB app is currently free on the iOS app store. Once downloaded, you can swipe through a series of five opening informational panels. You will be presented information about the trademarked SickScore, Track Family Health, receive SickZone Alerts, and join Sickweather groups. The app will ask you if you want to accept notifications, and will then ask to utilize location services. You can choose to allow for location services when using the app or from the background.
Living in Western Kentucky, the SickWeather app initially provided a score of 0, which I thought was odd. Across the top, you will see a cloud with sunglasses logo, which will take you to your account settings: Login/create an account, invite friends and about the app. Across the top right you can tap “Call Doctor.” If you touch this icon, it will navigate you to a side panel detailing 24/7 Doctor Access and sign up for WellVia (10% off with Sickweather app use). Across the bottom of the application, you will see icons for “Home,” “Family,” “Report,” “Alerts,” and “Groups.” Just below the map and the SickScore for the region, you will see a list of reported illnesses.
For my region, there were three listings with a total of 6 reports (4 flu, 1 sore throat, and 1 cough). Tapping the illness icon will take you to an informative overview section detailing the illness, incidence, and illness duration. You can further your education by selecting causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, when to call a healthcare provider, key points (vaccination), and next steps. The flu tab was markedly more informative than the sore throat tab and cough tabs were. The vague complaints (sore throat and cough) only provided generalities about “What is a sore throat?” and “What is a cough?.”
To utilize most of the features, you will need to sign in/log in to the application. Tapping the “Family icon,” you will be taken to a page that will allow you to track your family health. Tapping report will allow you to submit illness and reports of problems in your area. The alerts tab was blank. After a cursory evaluation of the application, I decided to create a Sickweather account. You can log in with facebook, email or create an account. I chose to create an account. You will need to input first/last name, email, and password (x2). Once created, I again navigated to the family icon and noted that the “Add a Family Member” feature was coming soon. You can add a New Event, or you can connect one of the currently supported Bluetooth devices: Swaive Ear thermometer, Kinsa Ear Thermometer, and the Phillips Ear Thermometer. Conveniently, the application links to the Amazon sale page for each of the devices.
If you select the report tab, located along the bottom of the application, you can add a publicly visible report or “Report Privately,” and not add this to the Sickweather map. Adding Sinus Infection to the map showed my location on the map, the date it was reported and the time. There are numerous alphabetized options to choose from: allergies, asthma, bronchitis, chicken pox, common cold, cough, croup, ear infection, fever, fifth disease, Flu, food poisoning, hay fever, head lice, nasal congestion, norovirus, pink eye, pneumonia, RSV, Sinus infection, sore throat, stomach virus, strep throat and ticks. You can touch one or more of the options and then select report along the bottom. This will place the report on the map. If you return to home (select icon along the bottom), you can swipe left to search locations. I added Las Vegas, Nevada and this created a second panel. Adding San Diego created yet another panel. You can swipe between the options, see the SickScore and the commonly reported illnesses. Unfortunately, as of the completion of this review, there were 302 reports of food poisoning in San Diego alone. I added a picture of the location while all 302 sick reports fell onto the same location. I question the validity of these reports as most of them were found on a single point on the map: Justine M Couture. It appears that an app like this could be used for nefarious purposes.
There are a few very large issues with this application. First, many people claim they have given illnesses without a medical diagnosis. Some may feel that they have a sinus infection when they have a viral upper respiratory illness. Also, many people claim to have strep throat with a sore throat or influenza when they have a simple gastrointestinal viral illness (stomach bug). There is really no such thing as stomach flu, that is just a common name for stomach bug. Fever, runny nose, allergies, body aches, etc. have diagnostic criteria yet are often misinterpreted by individuals. This is a self-diagnosis application, which can be dangerous to travel and for the individual. As noted above, it is possible to bully given locations by reporting spurious illnesses. One of the best reviews on the application store, posted on Nov 25 “Crowdsourced Self Diagnosis,” painted the perfect picture of this application. When individuals are responsible for the diagnosis, what stops frivolous postings, and who vets this information? Will you use this information for travel plans, when to send family/friends to or from a given location like school? Additionally, this only marks where the illness was reported and does not serve as a PLAGUE TRACKER.
The app, like many others on the iOS store has benefits and limitations. This will not protect you from any illness, and there is no guarantee that the sick person is still at the location that they reported. You still need to wash your hands, cover your mouth, avoid people who look ill and please VACCINATE yourself and your family. I would consider using this information as a tool, but not using it to make major changes. I have used the application for about two weeks, and I have not received any notifications. The SickScore in my region remained 0 but was 17 in Las Vegas and 97 in San Diego. Heading to CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada next week, I hoped to be able to see what the local environment would be doing. Unfortunately, I do not think that this application provides much additional information. The application seems like an amazing altruistic concept and seems to be well built. Alas, I will not be using this application and would not recommend it to others. Please seek care with your physician if you have health concerns.
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