Google helps researchers find out chickenpox peaks in spring globally

Researchers have found a unique way to find out chickenpox rates. Google Trends has been helping researchers to identify and assess influenza rates. This way, researchers have found the chickenpox virus is actually a seasonal disease with maximum cases being reported in spring.

Main objective of the study was to find out if chickenpox was a seasonal disease. In order to know the same, the researchers looked at Google search data from 36 nations for a period of over 11 years. The researchers have confirmed the data from published clinical cases.

After the complete assessment, the researchers have found that the virus cases are more across the globe in spring. But the nations where vaccines are used were found to be having weaker association. The study findings may especially prove beneficial in the nations where the chickenpox is not tracked and also where, the vaccine is not commonly used.

The findings could help government to have an idea of chickenpox rates and accordingly they can come up with guidelines. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said, “In countries where we immunize routinely, the seasonality is much more muted and the inquiries themselves aren’t about disease and symptoms and treatment [but] about vaccines”.

Study’s lead researcher Kevin Bakker said that he wanted to use Google information in the study after he found that the search engine giant’s search matched with seasonal peaks for childhood infectious diseases.

Bakker mentioned using Google Trends one can see the top trends in data across the world. Google data is used along with traditional clinical data. More research is needed to verify the findings, said Dr. Amy Edwards from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. But he mentioned that Google data may become extremely beneficial in the coming time.

According to a story published on the topic by New Scientist News, “No need to Google it. Chickenpox vaccination programmes have meant that fewer people are looking up the disease online. Australia, Germany and the US have been immunising children against the varicella zoster virus for more than a decade, but the success of these initiatives is hard to pin down. Now Kevin Bakker of the University of Michigan and his colleagues have found that between 2004 and 2015, Google searches for chickenpox fell in various countries once they began immunising against it.”

When the team compared the search data with clinical cases, they found a clear correlation, showing that such searches are good indicator of disease rates. But “digital epidemiology”, using search statistics alone, is much quicker and cheaper, Bakker says. “Google Trends is instantaneous, meaning I can look to see what the most popular searches are this morning, anywhere in the world,”

“They looked at Google search data from 36 countries over an 11-year period and then validated that data with information from published clinical cases. Researchers found that the virus appears to peak in the spring globally, though in countries where vaccines are used the association was much weaker. The results of the study were somewhat limited since the only countries that were studied were in temperate regions where there was internet access and the population had enough education and literacy to search for information about the disease online,” according to a recent WTOP News report.

“In countries where we immunize routinely, the seasonality is much more muted and the inquiries themselves aren’t about disease and symptoms and treatment [but] about vaccines,” he said, noting that those people doing online searches may have heard about a chickenpox infection in their community and become concerned their child was exposed.

A report published in Times of India News informed, “A sharp drop in Google searches on chickenpox has revealed that immunisation efforts to get rid of the common childhood disease have worked well in several countries. To understand this, a team from University of Michigan (U-M) analysed thousands of Google searches for “chickenpox.” The researchers downloaded and analysed freely available Google Trends data from 36 countries on five continents, covering an 11-year period starting in 2004.”

In the United States and Australia, two countries that report chickenpox and require the vaccine, the correlation still held but was weaker. These correlations enabled the researchers to create a forecasting model to predict the timing and magnitude of chickenpox outbreaks based on Google Trends data. “These results suggest that information seeking can be used for rapid forecasting, when the reporting of clinical cases is unavailable or too slow.”

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