Google Searches and Detection of Conjunctivitis Epidemics Worldwide.


Conjunctivitis outbreaks can be detected using temporal scan analysis of Google search data alone, with more than 80% detected before an outbreak report's issuance date, some as early as the reported outbreak's start date. Future approaches using data from smaller regions, social media, and more search terms may improve sensitivity further and cross-validate detected candidates, allowing identification of candidate conjunctivitis epidemics from Internet search data potentially to complementarily benefit traditional reporting and detection systems to improve epidemic awareness.

We identified 135 candidate conjunctivitis epidemic periods from 77 countries. Compared with our a priori defined collection of known reported outbreaks, candidate conjunctivitis epidemics identified 18 of 26 (69% sensitivity) of the reported country-wide or island nationwide outbreaks, or both; 9 of 20 (45% sensitivity) of the reported region or district-wide outbreaks, or both; but far fewer nosocomial and reported smaller outbreaks. Similar overall and individual sensitivity, as well as specificity, were found on a country-level basis. We also found that 83% of our candidate epidemics had start dates before (of those, 20% were more than 12 weeks before) their concurrent reported outbreak's report issuance date. Permutation tests provided evidence that on average, conjunctivitis candidate epidemics occurred geotemporally closer to outbreak reports than chance alone suggests (P < 0.001) unlike control term candidates (P = 0.40).

Search data for conjunctivitis-related and control search terms from 5 years and countries worldwide were obtained. Country and term were masked. Temporal scan statistics were applied to identify candidate epidemics. Candidates then were assessed for geotemporal concordance with an a priori defined collection of known reported conjunctivitis outbreaks, as a measure of sensitivity.

Populations by country that searched Google's search engine using our study terms.

Epidemic and seasonal infectious conjunctivitis outbreaks can impact education, workforce, and economy adversely. Yet conjunctivitis typically is not a reportable disease, potentially delaying mitigating intervention. Our study objective was to determine if conjunctivitis epidemics could be identified using Google Trends search data.

Percent of known conjunctivitis outbreaks also found in the same country and period by our candidate epidemics, identified from conjunctivitis-related searches.

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