Asked for comment about Kinsa’s proposal, a C.D.C. spokeswoman said the agency “is not working directly with this particular company, but appreciates the efforts of so many private sector companies to address this new threat.”
Dr. Nirav Shah, a former New York State health commissioner who is an adviser to Kinsa, said real-time fever data “could speed up public health the way Twitter sped up the news cycle.”
Demand for Kinsa’s smart thermometers has skyrocketed since the coronavirus pandemic began, Mr. Singh said, and the company is now selling 10,000 a day, which is creating production problems but also multiplying the amount of data coming in each day.
The thermometers connect to a cellphone app that instantly transmits their readings to the company. Users can also enter other symptoms they feel. The app then gives them general advice on when to seek medical attention.
Temperature readings have been far more timely and accurate than other rapid measures, such as cough medicine sales, electronic medical records or Google searches for “flu,” Dr. Shah said.
Because influenza usually produces higher, more protracted fevers than common colds do, the company’s software estimates which ZIP codes appear to be hit by flu rather than by other, milder cold viruses.
For a few months now, Kinsa has worked with Benjamin Dalziel, a disease modeler at Oregon State University who uses electronic medical records, C.D.C.’s influenza surveillance network and other data to map the way the flu season historically rises and falls across the country.
The company’s thermometer readings “are by far the most high-quality data set I’ve ever worked with,” Dr. Dalziel said. “Our results suggest that we can now accurately forecast flu out 12 weeks or more.”
Kinsa’s maps accurately detected this season’s early start in the Deep South and its unusual midwinter double peak, and did so about two weeks before these signs appeared in the C.D.C.’s FluView.
In a conference call with a reporter, Dr. Dalziel and Kinsa’s senior data scientist, Sam Chamberlain, showed twin maps overlaying one another: the first showing where this year’s flu season currently is, and another showing ZIP codes where high fevers are two or three times as common as they ought to be, according to the flu model.
“For a sanity check on our data, we compared this to what happened in Houston back when flu season began,” Dr. Chamberlain said. On that chart, a spike of green data points appears, rising to twice the height recorded in a typical season.
That marked the early, unusual outbreak of B-strain influenza that hit Louisiana and Texas in November.
The current flu season in Brooklyn is waning as winter ends. Beginning on Feb. 24, however, another spike of fevers began to grow out of the downward slope of the normal flu recordings.
“We can't say what that is, but it's very different from what we’d normally expect,” Dr. Chamberlain said.
“This is where the local health department might want to direct its testing,” Dr. Dalziel added.