Monday, May 23, 2022

Coronavirus: Can Google Trends help us understand the progress of the pandemic and our understanding of it? – times of India

Google Trends helps us discover and find out what the world is searching for and gives us insights on the behavior of Internet users towards a particular topic. Most of the global searches since 2020 have largely been about what the coronavirus is, its symptoms, its treatment, and where vaccines are available.

There are hundreds of millions of searches for information on COVID-19 on the Internet.

But does it determine our understanding of the transition? Or can it help us find out in which direction the COVID pandemic is heading?

Due to the lockdown and restrictions on movement, humans have used mobile phones more than ever before. From buying medicine to giving first aid to booking an ambulance, everything was done online when the nationwide lockdown was imposed in the country.

People had zero access to doctors and specialists due to the immediate shutdown. Knowing about the new virus was essential to avoid the pandemic. People relied on the internet to find out more about the novel coronavirus. Simple and basic questions like symptoms, how to know if someone is COVID positive, what to do if someone is COVID positive, were searched on internet.

Google sees an upward trend on COVID-19. “With increasing interest in the coronavirus, people want to know how to prepare and protect themselves,” Google says in its region-wise coronavirus report.

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In 2020, coronavirus was the second most searched subject in India after IPL. Other top discoveries were how to boost immunity, how to make sanitizer at home and do a COVID test near me.

By the time of 2021, the Indian government had set out on its mission to vaccinate people. This year, the top search was CoWIN, the portal designated by the Government of India for all COVID-19 vaccine related information. Furthermore, searches on vaccines and vaccine registration outnumbered searches on symptoms.

Variation in search topics speaks volumes about the epidemic, but how reliable is it to determine the strength of the epidemic? Or in simple words Google can be used as an epidemiological tool?

Google Trends uses a fraction of searches for a keyword, and then analyzes the search results according to a given geographic location and time frame. A relative search volume (RSV) is then assigned to the keyword, standardizing it from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the highest part of the word in a time series. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the post. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term.

A study in the scientific journal Nature in July 2021 disagrees on the legality of using Google Trends data as an epidemiological tool. However he added that when the relationship between trend data and real-world data such as COVID-19 cases is studied, “the resulting correlation may be more reliable.”

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On why Google Trends can’t be used to determine the strength of a pandemic, Jagpreet Chhatwal, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Technology Assessment, says it’s not always the case. Google Trends is going to follow up exactly what’s going on with the actual epidemiology. In a report carried by the Boston Globe, Chhatwal explains that for example, if a new COVID-19 symptom arises, the search for that particular symptom may increase. Once symptoms become familiar among the population, Google searches will narrow down, even as cases continue to rise.

A study shows that scholars of infovigilance and infodemiology use more robust criteria to collect data from Google Trends. “To ensure the absolute reliability of the Google Trends dataset, future research will require that authors collect data from queries over several consecutive days and work with their relative search volume (RSV) average, rather than daily RSV, when unless try to reduce the standard errors. An established confidence limit is respected,” says another.

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Nation World News Desk
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