Tracking Google search terms ‘could predict next Covid outbreak’ says study

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Tracking Google search terms could help predict coronavirus outbreaks, experts say.

Using symptom-related online searches might allow them to forecast a peak in cases about 17 days in advance, they found.

This includes glances for the symptoms of loss of sense of smell and skin rash, according to the University College London (UCL) researchers.

Analysing internet search activity is already used to track and understand the seasonal flu.

And using data on Covid-19 web searches in a similar way could improve public health surveillance methods for different countries, the study in the Nature Digital Medicine journal found.

The scientists said detecting outbreaks early is the “best chance” of tackling health emergencies.

Dr Vasileios Lampos, who led the research, said: “Adding to previous research that has showcased the utility of online search activity in modelling infectious diseases such as influenza, this study provides a new set of tools that can be used to track Covid-19.

"We have shown that our approach works on different countries irrespective of cultural, socioeconomic and climate differences.

"Our analysis was also among the first to find an association between Covid-19 incidence and searches about the symptoms of loss of sense of smell and skin rash.

  • Brits face having to pay £30 for 'vaccine certificates' from GPs to travel abroad

"We are delighted that public health organisations such as PHE (Public Health England) have also recognised the utility of these novel and non-traditional approaches to epidemiology."

The scientists found their model provides useful insights, such as early warnings.

They said it also showcased the effects of physical distancing measures.

Professor Michael Edelstein, from Bar-Ilan University, Israel, said: "Our best chance of tackling health emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic is to detect them early in order to act early.

"Using innovative approaches to disease detection such as analysing internet search activity to complement established approaches is the best way to identify outbreaks early."

Meanwhile, Bill Gates has claimed there is no way humans can stop future pandemics.

But the Microsoft boss said we "could increase our preparedness so we never have a death toll anywhere near what we have today".

He also warned of two future disasters facing mankind – climate change and bioterrorism.

  • Coronavirus
  • Google
  • Lockdown

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