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Ever wondered how Sneez came to be? Here’s the Sneez story as told by Reporter Fran Daniel in the Winston-Salem Journal.

“WINSTON-SALEM– Two Winston-Salem doctors have created an app called Sneez that they hope will decrease the spread of illnesses.

Sneez is a free app that uses crowd-sourced information to provide real-time illness tracking tied to a child’s school and grade.

Drs. Bill Satterwhite, a pediatrician and former lawyer, and Steve Hodges, a pediatric urologist, independently came up with the idea for the app, then teamed up in 2015 to get their project moving.

Satterwhite said his idea for the app was based on two thoughts he had in 2011 and 2012.

“One was, ‘How can I help keep children from getting sick and sharing that with other children?’” Satterwhite said. “The second thought was, ‘As a pediatrician I thought I could do a better job if I actually knew what was going around when I was treating a child in front of me.’”

He said that most germs are transmitted person-to-person and that children typically have a lot of prolonged face-to-face contact in school settings.

Satterwhite believed there should be a crowd-sourced app that provided parents an opportunity to enter information so that other parents who had children at the same school could be alerted “as to what’s going on and what’s going around.”

Hodges said that his inspiration for the app came from his wife, Jennifer, who thought it would be useful to know what illnesses were going around in local schools because their three children are school-aged.

“If you’re busy and you’ve got three kids to get three different places, and you get caught by surprise with an illness it’s very difficult to manage,” Hodges said of his wife.

He said they felt that knowing about cases of flu, strep and lice, for example, would make them feel more empowered and in control.

“We might take different measures to help protect our kids,” Hodges said.

From a health-care perspective, Hodges saw an immediate benefit to using technology to collect data that people submitted anonymously.

“The prevention of outbreaks is important for early diagnosis,” Hodges said. “Once a whole class is full of flu or whatever, it’s too late.”

He found out through an app production company that was interested in his idea that Satterwhite, who he has known for years, was interested in his idea.

Hodges and Satterwhite talked about the app but kept it on the back burner as they waited for the best opportunity to bring it to fruition.

Satterwhite said they found outside investors who encouraged them to press forward with Sneez.

The Sneez app was introduced to an initial parents group in October 2016 and had a full launch in November 2016 in Winston-Salem. So far, the initial money invested in the app is $250,000.

How it works

People download the Sneez app from the app store on their iPhone or Android smartphones. They set up an account by entering their name, ZIP code and the basic information for each family member they want to include, such as a child’s name, school, grade and extracurricular activities.

The app provides illness outbreak alerts about their particular school in real-time. “You can touch on the outbreaks map and you can see all the different schools and what the level of reported illness is in those schools where people are participating,” Satterwhite said.

All the reports are aggregated and location-based, not on individuals. The user of the app can provide a nickname if they prefer because the information will be visible only to them.

Sneez is not associated with any school system.

Growth and users’ reactions

Since December, 3,171 children from multiple cities across the country have been entered by users.

Stacy Petronzio, the chief marketing officer for Sneez LLC, said the app’s initial pilot exceeded her, Satterwhite and Hodges’ expectations.

“We had a hunch that we would get a good response since the app simply facilitates what parents are doing on their own when a child gets sick — sharing with their friends, warning others what’s “out there” and trying to take preventative measures based on what they hear,” Petronzio said. “Sneez takes this informal communication and brings order to it without revealing any personal information about the source.”

Katie Woltz and Cabell Edmundson, mothers who live in Winston-Salem, have been using Sneez since it was introduced last fall.

Woltz has three children — twins Will and Jack, who are 8, and 3-year-old Matthew.

“It has been helpful to know what particular illnesses are going around at my children’s schools,” Woltz said.

She said that if there is an outbreak of strep, for example, and one of her children complains of a sore throat, she would be more likely to take him for treatment rather than wait to see how his symptoms develop.

Edmundson said that using the app provides illness tracking information that is a great reminder for her children to wash their hands.

“Because you don’t ever know what you’re going to have until it comes home, but you can see what’s there,” said Edmundson, who has two children — Mary Lowe, who is 11, and James who is 9.

She said her daughter had the flu about a month ago, but Edmundson at first thought she had strep throat.

Edmundson said she checked the Sneez app and saw reports of several cases of flu at her daughter’s school. Then she quickly took her daughter to a doctor and was able to get her on an antiviral medicine.

“I think it’s a great tool,” she said of Sneez.

What’s next?

Petronzio said they look forward to expanding the rollout of Sneez in Winston-Salem and to new markets.

“We are thrilled that parents are responding so favorably and are working to incorporate the great feedback we are getting in order to further enhance the app’s functionality and value,” she said.

Hodges said they are trying to get people more active in entering illnesses and raise awareness about how the app works.

“The better it works is when people use it more because information is the key,” he said.

Hodges pointed out that some schools in the country have shut down for outbreaks of the flu and norovirus, a highly contagious stomach bug.

He said that all these illnesses cost days from school and days from work.

“Our goal is early prevention, preventing outbreaks and saving money from missed days at school and missed days at work,” Hodges said.”

See the video interview here.