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Googling Chicken Pox

June 10, 2016

Internet search engines can help predict disease outbreaks.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Online disease tracking. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People turn to the internet when they need information fast. So during outbreaks of infectious childhood diseases like chicken pox, parents start Googling. Now, researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that Google search trends reflect actual chicken pox cases in many countries. University of Michigan researcher Kevin Bakker calls this “digital epidemiology”.

KEVIN BAKKER (University of Michigan):

You can use real time data to predict outbreaks of diseases.

HIRSHON:

And, Bakker says, in countries where routine vaccination has been introduced, seasonal spikes in chicken pox searches have flattened out as the disease wanes.

BAKKER:

They implemented the vaccine, so fewer and fewer parents are searching for things like chicken pox symptoms.

HIRSHON:

He adds that vaccinating healthy people also helps protect those for whom chicken pox is dangerous. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard