Seeking a cure for sickness app

First Posted: 3/26/2015

I can now receive illness alerts on my phone from a website that bills itself as “the Doppler radar of sickness.”

Sickweather (www.sick collects social-media posts that mention common illnesses, plots them on a map, then emails the results to subscribers.

If, say, a lot of people in Westerville are chattering about their bad coughs on Twitter, I get a warning.

Had Sickweather just asked, I could have told it that, from September through March, central Ohio is pretty much a vortex of sneezing and coughing. You can see the dense clouds of mucus droplets from outer space.

And, when the cold season ends, it will be replaced by allergy season — and more sneezing.

In other words, alerting me to the presence of sinus congestion in Columbus is akin to alerting me to the fact that it’s cloudy here.

It’s to be expected.

Then again, people love weather forecasts, so maybe they’ll love Sickweather forecasts, too. If so, I foresee the TV stations adding “strep-throat advisories” to their usual lineup of warnings, watches and alerts.

The illness forecast would resemble the weather segment — sweeping arm motions in front of a giant map — except that the forecaster would wear a white lab coat and say things such as “A phlegm system is centered over Grove City” or “Sneezy tonight with a chance of bronchitis.”

Sickweather offers alerts for about 23 health conditions, including allergies, sinus infections, pinkeye and strep throat (but not Bieber Fever, as the program knows how to weed out metaphors).

I’d say Sickweather needs to either vastly expand that menu or drastically shrink it.

The argument for expansion: I see no categories for common local ailments such as pervasive melancholy (after an Ohio State loss in football), traffic-induced hypertension (from the I-270/Rt. 23 construction zone on the North Side) or Monday.

The argument for shrinkage: Can you really trust sufferers to distinguish among allergies, common colds, sinus infections and nasal congestion? Just call it crud and be done with it.

Once an Ohioan settles on a cause for what ails him, he tends to turn it into an all-purpose diagnosis anyway.

Some people blame sinus trouble for everything, including projectile vomiting, blindness and missing limbs. Allergies or “stomach flu” are favored by others.

Those three categories — plus crud and “My back hurts” — might just cover all the bases.

But, if Sickweather wants to be really useful, the site could forget the illness alerts altogether. Just assume that everyone has the sniffles and airdrop tissues and throat lozenges.

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