“Searches for GI symptoms preceded the rise in reported COVID-19 in a predictable fashion … “
Sep 14, 2020
Science Alert – Googling your symptoms when you’re feeling sick might lead you towards some pretty unreliable medical information most of the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely useless exercise.
In a recent study, researchers measured the popularity of medical symptom searches on Google and discovered that the volume of such searches can subsequently help predict the incidence of COVID-19 cases arising weeks later in the area.
While the most common symptoms associated with coronavirus might be things like cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, in this case, researchers wanted to examine whether there was a correlation between COVID-19 cases and surges in searches for a more distinct subset of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms caused by the disease, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea.
“Search terms included ageusia [loss of taste], abdominal pain, loss of appetite … “
The team, led by first author and gastroenterologist Imama Ahmad from North Shore Medical Centre in Salem, Massachusetts, explains in their paper:
“We identified common GI symptoms attributed to COVID-19 from previous studies as search terms, which included ageusia [loss of taste], abdominal pain, loss of appetite, anorexia, diarrhea, and vomiting.”
Using Google Trends, the researchers compared the volume of anonymized searches for these terms in 15 US states against the reported incidence of COVID-19 cases, in the period between January and April of this year.
They found Google searches for specific, common GI symptoms were indeed linked with subsequent coronavirus cases in most of the states studied, with the strongest relationship being evident about three to four weeks after the searches were made.
While this is an important and potentially helpful insight, it’s not an entirely surprising link. For several years, it’s been well known that search engine queries can help alert us to things like influenza outbreaks.
So the main takeaway here is that – as experts have suggested – the same technique really can also help inform us on the spread of COVID-19, potentially signaling which suburbs might be about to become hotspots.
“Searches for GI symptoms preceded the rise in reported COVID-19 in a predictable fashion … ” Read more.