In the next few weeks, the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic are expected to worsen due to the colder weather and rise in the number of cases of common cold and flu, which may also increase the load on hospitals, leading to further strain on the healthcare system. For identifying areas with the highest cases and new coronavirus hotspots, a new study suggests examining the google search as per community.
More specifically, the research, which was conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association, suggested that certain google searches and trends can accentuate the rise of coronavirus in a particular spot including searches for coronavirus symptoms.
Among all the conventional signs which are associated with the coronavirus infection including fever, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and fatigue, GI or gastrointestinal symptoms can be most helpful in looking for emerging hotspots for coronavirus.
Usually, areas with high searches for particular gastrointestinal signs such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, loss of taste, abdominal cramping and pain, nausea, and vomiting tend to have the most cases.
To reach this conclusion, researchers in the new study looked at Google searches for the aforementioned gastrointestinal symptoms and previously known hotspots for the disease via the use of Google Trends. It was then found that the searches for the symptoms increase approximately a month prior to an outbreak in many of the states in the US.
The researchers are positive that the findings of this study can help in the identification of new coronavirus hotspots nearly four weeks before it emerges, which then can help in preparing beforehand and controlling the outbreak on time.
Prior to this study, researchers have used google searches and trends to identify hotspots and outbreaks before as well. For instance, the 2008 Google Flu Trends was a project designed specifically to recognize hotspots for flu using google searches.
However, the project had a number of flaws which paved the way for its failure and was soon discontinued especially after it was not able to identify the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009.
The flaws and mistakes made during the GFT project can also be repeated while using google trends for identifying new coronavirus hotspots. According to researchers, there is no way to tell that the method is effective and will actually help in controlling the number of new cases.
Read also: Can Coronavirus Spread Through Your Glasses or Contact Lens?
Another problem that may occur with using google searches and trends for looking out for new outbreaks in the coming weeks is that the number of cases of flu is also bound to increase very soon due to the colder weather.
The symptoms of flu, common cold, and coronavirus infection tend to be very similar and experts may find it hard to distinguish between them in searches unless they only rely on GI symptoms which are associated with coronavirus more than flu.
In a similar way, it is difficult to tell whether people of a certain area looking up symptoms are doing so because of experiencing themselves or due to the prevailing coronavirus fear and anxiety.
Google is indeed helpful and can be used but there is a need for a much more detailed plan on how to use it to look for new coronavirus hotspots or any other disease outbreaks without repeating mistakes of the past.