Sales of over-the-counter drugs taken to treat the flu may help the government learn more quickly about local outbreaks.
The government now receives figures representing 80 percent of the sales of remedies for cold symptoms and diarrhea, for example, in an effort to spot disease trends.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a sudden spike in sales of those products might provide a hint that flu activity has emerged. But she says health officials do not know if the information will be a useful clue or not.
Gerberding spoke Sunday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting. Gerberding added that the flu season appears to be starting slowly this year, but she said flu activity is unpredictable.