A new study from the Department of Dermatology and Allergy at the Technical University of Munich analyzed over 200 million Google searches in Germany. The data showed a high correlation between temperature, tick bite, and tick-borne illness, as well as between Google searches for Lyme and registered Lyme cases. More connections and trends might be waiting to be uncovered.
Background: Borreliosis is the most frequently transmitted tick-borne disease in Europe. It is difficult to estimate the incidence of tick bites and associated diseases in the German population due to the lack of an obligation to register across all 16 federal states of Germany.
Objective: The aim of this study is to show that Google data can be used to generate general trends of infectious diseases on the basis of borreliosis and tick bites. In addition, the possibility of using Google AdWord data to estimate incidences of infectious diseases, where there is inconsistency in the obligation to notify authorities, is investigated with the perspective to facilitate public health studies.
Methods: Google AdWords Keyword Planner was used to identify search terms related to ticks and borreliosis in Germany from January 2015 to December 2018. The search volume data from the identified search terms was assessed using Excel version 15.23. In addition, SPSS version 24.0 was used to calculate the correlation between search volumes, registered cases, and temperature.
Results: A total of 1999 tick-related and 542 borreliosis-related search terms were identified, with a total of 209,679,640 Google searches in all 16 German federal states in the period under review. The analysis showed a high correlation between temperature and borreliosis (r=0.88), and temperature and tick bite (r=0.83), and a very high correlation between borreliosis and tick bite (r=0.94). Furthermore, a high to very high correlation between Google searches and registered cases in each federal state was observed (Brandenburg r=0.80, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania r= 0.77, Saxony r= 0.74, and Saxony-Anhalt r=0.90; all P<.001).
Conclusions: Our study provides insight into annual trends concerning interest in ticks and borreliosis that are relevant to the German population exemplary in the data of a large internet search engine. Public health studies collecting incidence data may benefit from the results indicating a significant correlation between internet search data and incidences of infectious diseases.
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