Google searches may be key in tracking COVID-19 hotspots. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have recently discovered a link between Google search trends and COVID-19 cases, suggesting that experts could use these searches to identify outbreaks sooner.
“Web-based activity detection tools can play a vital role in early detection of infectious events and help in the timely preparedness of respective health care systems in order to avoid the adverse consequences of being caught by surprise. Among these Web-based surveillance tools, one of the most prominent is Google Trends,” reads the study.
In the study, data on total and daily new cases in each US state were collected from January 22 to April 6, 2020. Information regarding 10 keywords was collected from Google Trends, and correlation analyses were performed for individual states as well as for the United States overall.
The keywords searched for included: COVID symptoms, coronavirus symptoms, sore throat+shortness of breath+fatigue+cough, coronavirus testing center, loss of smell, Lysol (sanitizer), antibody, face mask, coronavirus vaccine, and COVID stimulus check.
To study the association between COVID-19 cases and Google search trends for each of the 10 keywords, researchers created scatterplots showing the number of COVID-19 cases against a standardised daily Google search RSV value.
Keywords like “Lysol”, “face mask”, “loss of smell” and coronavirus testing center” were found to have a strong relationship with outbreaks in an area. Strong correlations were seen up to 16 days prior to the first reported cases in some states.
Search popularity for each keyword varied with COVID-19 case numbers. Some keywords such as “antibody” and “Lysol” had higher popularity as COVID-19 cases increased; other keywords such as “COVID symptoms” and “coronavirus vaccine” had higher popularity when COVID-19 case numbers were lower.
“This study documents the feasibility of syndromic surveillance of internet search terms to monitor new infectious diseases such as coronavirus disease in 2019. This information could enable better preparation and planning of health care systems,” the paper concluded.