This flu season, a new smartphone application will help students know when the flu is hitting campus based on data gathered from self-reported symptoms.

Dr. Ajay Sethi, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, helped develop the “Out Smart Flu” smartphone application that allows users to report their flu-like symptoms.

“[The] data is collected and then aggregated and that information is used to track the spread of flu on our campus,” Sethi said.

Sethi said he and his team members want to detect the flu on campus earlier to be able to share the data in “near-real time” with all users. By informing users of when the flu arrives on campus, they hope users will practice flu-prevention behaviors such as washing their hands a little longer, getting extra rest and getting a flu shot, Sethi said.

The idea for the app dates back to 2010, when Google revealed they could detect the influenza epidemic in the country two weeks earlier than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did because people are more likely to search their symptoms online before going to see the doctor, Sethi said.

“We felt like there is a possibility that we also can detect flu epidemic early if we ask students or users on our campus to report their symptoms using the app,” he said.

Sethi and his team worked with Survey Analytics, a company that provides a platform for online survey, data collection and analysis to develop the smartphone application, according to the company’s website.

Without outside commercial interests, the team customized one of the company’s existing platforms to fit UW’s initiative, Sethi said.

Anyone can download the app from iTunes or Google Play, but it is designed exclusively for UW community members and cannot be used in other college or cities because members have to register with their WiscMail, Sethi said.

The goal of developing the app is to take care of the campus and see whether the project works, he said.

By using the Out Smart Flu app, students and other community members can easily access information about a possible flu epidemic on campus and have the ability to take precautions, Sethi said.

People without smartphones can also access the data by visiting the project’s website, where reports about flu activity are posted, he said.