Tracking the Flu, One Thermometer At A Time

Since 2014 Kinsa has been promoting and developing their smart thermometers – a thermometer that links to your smartphone, allowing patients, parents or other healthcare professionals to record and track their temperature data over time. With this year’s record-breaking flu season, Kinsa’s smart thermometer has achieved critical mass, with Kinsa reporting up to 25,000 readings per day. With all this real-time data, Kinsa is claiming to be able to track flu season faster and more accurately than public health authorities, such as the CDC. Once your child has registered a temperature, Kinsa’s smartphone app gives helpful tips about how to treat and manage fever. But who else now knows that your child is sick?

A happy side effect of having 500,000 smart thermometers in American households is a glut of data about who has a fever and where. Kinsa has a very savvy marketing team, and the company is monetizing not only their devices, but also their data. For example, Kinsa has created a school program, called “FLUency,” to market the devices to schools and parents. The FLUency program includes a school-specific app for parents to share symptoms, such as if their children are exhibiting coughing, sore throat, earache, etc.

Kinsa has also developed “Kinsa Insights,” a reportal that sells access to Kinsa’s anonymized data, with the promise that Insights clients are getting the data directly from sick households, before consumers can even search the web for “flu” or visit their doctor. In a blog post entitled “The Sick $ense: A real-time opportunity for illness-based marketing,” Kinsa promotes their data to marketers, encouraging brands to use the data to predict when products that sell better to sick people will be in high demand. Brand clients and marketers will know “where and when people will be coughing vs. vomiting” and a platform in the app to get their ad content directly to consumers.

It’s up to patients and doctors to decide if the convenience of a smart thermometer outweighs the benefits of a good old-fashioned thermometer that isn’t transmitting your illness to eager marketers.

If you need help fighting the flu, make sure you understand your flu shots:

For the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC has recommended that three-component flu vaccines contain the following:

– an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated),

– a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus.

Four-component vaccines are recommended to contain a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus. In a deviation from previous years, the CDC recommends against using a nasal spray flu vaccine, also known as the live attenuated flu vaccine (LAIV) due to concerns about effectiveness. Sure, a shot can be a few seconds of pain, but it’s better than being laid out for days if you do contract the flu.

For the first time, the CDC has approved a true cell-based candidate vaccine virus, in addition to those traditionally produced using fertilized chickens’ eggs.

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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.