Google searches for 'syphilis' help public health officials track new outbreaks

Public health researchers are looking at the health information people search on Google to potentially link search term frequency with potential disease outbreaks, according to Futurism.

Using publicly available information from Google search trends and geotagged tweets, two CDC studies found connects between syphilis outbreaks and the online activity of people in those areas. One of the studies examined 25 Google search terms — such as "STD" and "Find Sex" — which researchers found to be linked to a number of reported syphilis cases in the same geographic area. The other study identified the same pattern for geotagged tweets about syphilis.

Researchers then compared the Google and Twitter methods against the CDC's existing models of tracking disease outbreaks and making public health recommendations, Futurism reports. Both methods worked equally as well.

While researchers may have found a link between people's online behavior and their sexual health, they haven't yet established it as a predictive tool for tracking or preventing future disease outbreaks.

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