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U of G study uses Google trends to help pinpoint hot spots for ticks, Lyme disease

0 2 years ago

Researchers at the University of Guelph have undertaken a spatial epidemiological analysis of Lyme disease using internet searches to focus on the association between Lyme disease prevalence and internet search frequencies recorded by Google Trends.

The goal of this study was to analyze the Google trends relating to Lyme disease in southern Ontario for the years 2015–2019 with a focus on the association between Lyme disease prevalence and Internet search frequencies.

“We need to know where people search the term, where they might have been exposed to ticks, because the areas where the ticks live or are active are changing. It’s shifting,” said Olaf Berke, a statistical epidemiology professor in the department of population medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College. “That’s where public health could see where people search for Lyme disease, and ticks or diseases that might align with tick activity.”

The study involved first author Maria Kutera, a fourth-year undergraduate student in biological science, and PhD candidate Kurtis Sobkowich.

Berke credited Kutera as the backbone of the study and the person who brought forward the idea for the research project.

The team looked at reports of Lyme disease from 28 public health units in southern Ontario between 2015 and 2019. The researchers then compared that information with Google Trends data for the same regions and years.

Total reported Lyme disease cases per public health unit ranged from seven to 557 cases, with prevalence ranging from 0.64 to 64.62 per 100,000 individuals. The regional Lyme disease prevalence had a mean of 7.86 and a standard deviation of 15.27 per 100,000 individuals.

Berke noted that although the Google trends were linked to geolocations, there is the possibility for the data to be skewed from unrelated searches.


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