Researchers have developed an analytical tool that combines Google Search data with government-provided clinical input to quickly track dengue in less-developed countries. The tool provides a near real-time monitoring that could enable faster response to outbreaks.
“The wide availability of internet throughout the globe provides the potential for an alternative way to reliably track infectious diseases, such as dengue, faster than traditional clinical-based systems,” said senior author Mauricio Santillana in a paper published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.
“This alternative way of tracking disease could be used to alert governments and hospitals when elevated dengue incidence is anticipated and provide safety information for travellers,” added Santillana.
The new research builds on a mathematical modelling tool, known as “AutoRegression with Google Search queries” (ARGO), used to track influenza in the US a few years ago.
The research team modified ARGO to explore its potential to track dengue activity in Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan.
The researchers used Google’s “Trends” tool to track the top 10 dengue-related search queries made by users in each country during the study period and gathered historical dengue data from government health agencies and input both datasets into ARGO.
Future work could investigate whether this method could be improved to track disease on finer spatial and temporal scales, and whether environmental data, such as temperature, could improve estimates.