Google Trends seemed to identify the approximate time and day people realized they were not dealing with the SARS virus, but rather an outbreak of something new.
This could explain, why in China there was greater express of interest in SARS, than in general term coronavirus,” wrote Artur Strzelecki from the department of informatics at the University of Economic in Kotowice, Poland, in a paper published in late January.
On Jan. 22, he notes, the volume of interest in coronavirus began to become greater than interest in SARS. “Certainly it is connected with rapid release to the public of the genome sequence of the new virus by Chinese virologists,” he wrote.
The paper — Infodemiological Study Using Google Trends On The Coronavirus Epidemic In Wuhan, China — shows how the demand for information on this epidemic gets reported through Google Trends. Strzelecki draws conclusions on the infodemiological data available using three search queries: coronavirus, SARS, and MERS.
It also shows that in the beginning days of the outbreak, China thought this disease was SARS. Searches referred to SARS more often than to coronaviruses. Worldwide, outside of China, searches referred to the outbreak more often to coronaviruses.
Strzelecki explains that infodemiology is an area of science research that focuses on scanning the Internet, publicly available data and other sources for user-contributed health-related content such as Google Trends, Google Flu Trends, and Google Health API.
Google Trends has become the source to reverse engineer data related to health. The platform has been used to track diseases such as chickenpox, HIV, and Ebola. The data shows what people search for in Google, and the data is normalized in terms of search frequency and presented in relative search volumes.
Researchers can compare up to five keywords and can be divided into infectious diseases, mental health, other diseases, and general population behavior.
“The motivation behind this communication is to analyze how search demand for information about coronaviruses is shared worldwide,” Strzelecki wrote. “There is no doubt, that people express own interest by searching information and using search queries.”
You can read the paper here.