A website that will provide up-to-date information and surveillance on swine flu has been launched by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The LSHTM together with the Health Protection Agency set up the new site to allow visitors to access information on the transmission, symptoms and receive advice about swine flu as well as the latest location and statistics of reported cases throughout the world.

The developers of the flusurvey.org.uk website hope that it will provide reassurance to the public during the current flu pandemic and take some of the pressure off of NHS Direct and GP surgeries, which have been inundated with calls.

Similar systems are available in the UK but most are based on people contacting their GP and the information being passed on to the Health Protection Agency. However, as swine flu increases less people are likely to contact their GP making it more difficult to track the spread of the flu.

Richard White, senior lecturer in infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the scientists who has set up the site, said: “We hope that this system will give us a more accurate, up-to-date description of disease in the community, and keep people informed of pandemic progress in the most up-to-date and complete way possible.

Since 2003, the internet has been used to monitor patterns of influenza-like-illnesses in the Netherlands and Belgium with more than 30,000 people signing up to the service. In 2005, Portugal began using it for flu surveillance followed by Italy in 2007. The new website now extends the service to the UK and already has more almost 3,000 participants.

White added: “This method has been successfully used for a number of years now in Holland, Belgium, Portugal and Italy, and we hope that by collecting data in similar ways across different countries we can compare the epidemiology of flu very accurately.”

To participate in the survey, members are asked some background questions and are asked to log on and report if they have any symptoms each week. If the participant is displaying symptoms they are given advice on whether they are likely to be flu related and what to do if they are.

Participants can also receive regular updates on the progress of the pandemic and can access a map that shows the approximate locations of participants and whether they have swine flu symptoms.