Examining the themes of STD-related Internet searches to increase specificity of disease forecasting using Internet search terms

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US surveillance of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is often delayed and incomplete which creates missed opportunities to identify and respond to trends in disease. Internet search engine data has the potential to be an efficient, economical and representative enhancement to the established surveillance system. Google Trends allows the download of de-identified search engine data, which has been used to demonstrate the positive and statistically significant association between STD-related search terms and STD rates. In this study, search engine user content was identified by surveying specific exposure groups of individuals (STD clinic patients and university students) aged 18–35. Participants were asked to list the terms they use to search for STD-related information. Google Correlate was used to validate search term content. On average STD clinic participant queries were longer compared to student queries. STD clinic participants were more likely to report using search terms that were related to symptomatology such as describing symptoms of STDs, while students were more likely to report searching for general information. These differences in search terms by subpopulation have implications for STD surveillance in populations at most risk for disease acquisition.

Last modified
  • 05/08/2017
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  • Scientific Reports