MRSA spread could be tracked through Google search patterns

by Deborah Braconnier report
Weekly counts of news coverage (newspaper stories, wire service stories, and television and radio news transcripts) that mention "MRSA" (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or "staph," 2004-2008. Extracted from the LexisNexis Academic Database. Image: [i]Emerging Infectious Diseases[/i], Volume 17, Number 6-June 2011.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Google searches are apparently providing much more important information than just a typical search for a local restaurant or research for a term paper. Google trends are also providing much more information than just the ‘top celebrity gossip’ and news searches. According to a paper published in the June issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, epidemiologist Diane Lauderdale of the University of Chicago show how Google searches and trends could be used to better track the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

MRSA causes a drug-resistant staph infection which was originally seen in hospitals and became widespread in the 1980s. In the 1990s, a community strain emerged and began affecting healthy people outside of hospitals, with a large infection spreading in 2005 that has been linked to the death of 18,650 Americans as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2007.

The researchers examined Google searches for the terms ‘MRSA’ and ‘staph’ between 2004 and 2008 and compared the search numbers with actual MRSA related hospital records. Researchers also looked at news reports throughout 2004-2008 where was mentioned, as they hypothesized that the coverage would cause an increase in searches. However, besides a spike in 2007 after the CDC announced its 2005 outbreak report, the number of searches tracked with the number of cases, and did not show increases when news coverage increased. To the researchers, this suggests that the search patterns in Google may be a reliable indicator of infections.

This would not be the first time Google Trends and searches were used as an indicator when it came to a medical outbreak. Flu Trends is used as a potential early indicator of flu entering an area and was brought into the spotlight during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

More information: Internet Queries and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Surveillance, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 17, Number 6–June 2011. www.cdc.gov/eid/content/17/6/1068.htm

Abstract
The Internet is a common source of medical information and has created novel surveillance opportunities. We assessed the potential for Internet-based surveillance of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and examined the extent to which it reflects trends in hospitalizations and news coverage. Google queries were a useful predictor of hospitalizations for methicillin-resistant S. aureus infections.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Nigeria death shows Ebola can spread by air travel

10 hours ago

(AP)—Nigerian health authorities raced to stop the spread of Ebola on Saturday after a man sick with one of the world's deadliest diseases brought it by plane to Lagos, Africa's largest city with 21 million ...

Trial in salmonella outbreak to start in Georgia

10 hours ago

(AP)—Three people accused of scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine people and sickened more than 700 are set to go to trial this week in Georgia.

Remote tribe members enter another village, catch flu

18 hours ago

Advocates for indigenous tribes are worried over incidents last month when some members of one of the last uncontacted tribes in the Peru/Brazil region, across borders, left their home in Peru and entered ...

Nigeria on red alert after first Ebola death

Jul 26, 2014

Nigeria was on alert against the possible spread of Ebola on Saturday, a day after the first confirmed death from the virus in Lagos, Africa's biggest city and the country's financial capital.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) May 23, 2011
Political correctness defeats every technological effort to common sense. Search the correlation pattern of MRSA with bedbugs with green housekeeping practices and the invasion of the diseased. Multicultural tolerance defeats technology and will defeat civilization in the limit.