Web searches for symptoms of HIV, MRSA and flu strains will be monitored to spot outbreaks of infections


British scientists plan to harness the power of the internet to catch outbreaks of killer infections before they spread.

The researchers will use online surveillance to monitor millions of web searches where people have looked up symptoms related to conditions such as HIV, MRSA or dangerous strains of flu.

They say this will help them to locate in “real time” exactly where the next epidemic is emerging. It is hoped that this will “revolutionise” Britain’s ability to respond to deadly infections and prevent millions of deaths.

The £17million government-funded Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) centre, where the technologies will be advanced, is expected to be operational by October.

The Health Protection Agency currently relies on medical testing which can take up to two weeks to determine where an outbreak is happening.

Dr Rachel McKendry, from UCL, said online tracking of infectious diseases could identify epidemics before patients even visit a doctor.

She said it is “crucial” the online surveillance be linked to the mobile testing being developed at the IRC to be used in GP surgeries and even care homes.

“In a single visit someone can be diagnosed, get the result and get treatment,” said Dr McKendry.