AI-assisted flu diagnosis adopted in Japan

The use of artificial intelligence to diagnose influenza cases is expanding in Japan.

Clinics across the country are busy this time of year, as peak flu season is usually in early February.

Influenza cases have been on the rise in recent weeks. In the week through January 28, the number of cases reported by about 5,000 medical institutions nationwide was 94,694, or 19.2 per institution, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and others. The tally was higher than that from the previous week.

A growing number of clinics is turning to a new diagnosis method that utilizes artificial intelligence, instead of taking a sample from the back of the nose with a swab.

The new method involves an AI-equipped small camera, which is used to take an image of the inside of the throat. The AI tool evaluates the image based on what it has learned from more than 500,000 other throat images, and determines whether the throat has influenza follicles, which experts say are a hallmark symptom of influenza.

The whole process takes only a few seconds. Physicians make a final decision after talking to patients.

A clinic in Saitama Prefecture that uses AI-assisted flu diagnosis equipment says it is popular among patients who don't like nasal swabs. Officials say the new method makes a quick diagnosis possible, as influenza follicles are said to emerge in the very early stages of an infection.

Diagnosis using this equipment is covered by public health insurance schemes.