Did your parents tell you to remember your scarf when you went out, so you wouldn't catch a cold? Today, the advice might be: Remember your cell phone.
A maker of over-the-counter cold and flu remedies released a program this week for the T-Mobile G1, also known as the "Google phone," that warns the user how many people in an area are sneezing and shaking with winter viruses.
The "Zicam Cold & Flu Companion" will say, for instance, that 8 percent to 14 percent of the people in your ZIP code have respiratory illnesses, representing a "Moderate" risk level. To give germophobes and hypochondriacs even more of a thrill, it also says what symptoms are common, like coughing and sore throat.
Matrixx Initiatives Inc., the Arizona company that makes products under the Zicam brand, gets the information on disease levels from Surveillance Data Inc. — which gets its data from polling health care providers and pharmacies.
Users can also ask the application about risk levels in other ZIP codes, so they can steer clear of, for instance, Atlanta, one of the five most infected cities in the nation right now, according to Zicam.
The "Companion" is available for free from the Android Marketplace, the repository of downloadable programs for the G1. Later this month, the program will be available for the iPhone, according to Matrixx.
Google Inc., which created the G1's operating system, launched its own state-by-state Web-based flu tracker recently. It's based on the number of people plugging flu-related searches into Google's search engine.