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Google tracks dengue fever by analysing search trends

Google is examining search patterns in an attempt to help health officials prepare for outbreaks of dengue fever. The search engine has started to moni...

Admin
|May 31|magazine12 min read

Google is examining search patterns in an attempt to help health officials prepare for outbreaks of dengue fever.

The search engine has started to monitor dengue-related search terms in the hope that it will develop an early warning system for outbreaks.

It is focusing specifically on phrases searched by users in countries with a high prevalence of dengue fever; Bolivia, Brazil, Singapore, India and Indonesia.

Google claims that the way in which it is collecting the information is more advantageous than the collection of ‘official data’, as the results are recorded in real-time as opposed to taking weeks to collate.

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Writing in a blog post, Google software engineer said: “Using the dengue case count data provided by Ministries of Health and the World Health Organisation, we're able to build a model that offers near real-time estimates of dengue activity based on the popularity of certain search terms.”

"Google Dengue Trends is automatically updated every day, thereby providing an early indicator of dengue activity.”

Google worked in partnership with the Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School to develop the dengue trackers after using a similar system to monitor the spread of flu in 2009.

The disease tracker is part of the new Google Correlate tool, which was introduced after its successful pilot of Flu Trends.

Google Correlate, which launched last week, is a new service which connects real life data with search terms, allowing experts to compare their data with trending search topics.

The highlights of the software are evident when search terms and real world data match the same patterns, for example, when an outbreak of flu coincides with a large number of flu related search terms such as ‘symptoms of flu’ or ‘treatments of flu’.  

After the 2009 analysis of flu outbreaks across the world public health officials used the collected data to distribute vaccines more effectively.

Dengue fever is a tropical disease which is spread by mosquitoes. Symptoms resemble a severe flu-like illness and include a rash, bad headache, high fever and muscle pains.

Two-fifths of the world’s population are at risk of dengue fever as global incidence has grown dramatically in recent years.