Scientists claim that Google searches about gastrointestinal or gut symptoms may have predicted a COVID-19 cases' increase in the past few weeks. The Massachusetts General Hospital's researchers discovered that the internet searchers demonstrated an early warning for the novel coronavirus pandemic's hot spots.
Experts from the top-ranked hospital located in Boston conducted a study to compare the search interest in diarrhea and loss of taste and appetite with reported COVID-19 cases in 15 U.S. states starting from Jan. 20 until Apr. 20.
According to Fox News' latest report, the researchers also found that the patients regularly complained of similar gut symptoms, including abdominal pain, ageusia, anorexia, and vomiting.
The researchers discovered a strong correlation between the volume of searches and infected cases in New Jersey, California, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois, using Alphabet Incorporated's Google Trends online tool. These states have a high number of COVID-19 cases, three to four weeks later.
"Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of COVID-19 infection and suggests that Google Trends may be a valuable tool for prediction of pandemics with GI manifestations," said Kyle Staller, Mass General's gastrointestinal motility laboratory's director.
However, the researchers said that the search results lack more specific factors such as occupational factors, internet use patterns, and demographics.
Experts say that the method could be essential in tracking COVID-19 hot spots
Staller further explained that although their study gives important information about search terms' relationship with coronavirus cases, it is still important to consider that Google Trends data does not allow for defining specific increased interest thresholds.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The paper says that the same strategy was used to track pandemic influenza more than a decade ago.
The research suggests that the same approach could be deployed for the novel coronavirus pandemic since infected people often report gastrointestinal symptoms.
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Written by: Giuliano de Leon.