Using Peoples Web Search History Could Help Detect Covid Outbreaks Before They Happen.
Researchers from University College London (UCL) say online search data for terms like “loss of sense of smell” or “skin rash” provide valuable data for epidemiologists who are looking for early warning signs of an outbreak. They say the data can give a 17-day jump-start to medical experts.
The team looked at search data in four English-speaking countries – the US, UK, Canada and Australia – and examined how the word ‘covid’ was used with other symptoms. They also analyzed infection data and found a 17-day lag between search terms and peaks in cases.
‘People were trying to find out if they covid’, said a researcher, ‘if we track all the searches we should be able to alert health authorities anywhere around the world of possible outbreaks. For example, if we detect thousand of ‘queries’ for the words covid symptoms, we could collect the data, find the exact location, and send it out as an early warning system.’
The UCL team say public health officials are willing to look at the usefulness of novel “non-traditional” ways of detecting outbreaks. And the study says looking at search terms also provides an early warning on the effectiveness of “physical distancing” measures.
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