Syphilis Google searches help public health officials predict new cases

April 18, 2018 by Dan Robitzski

This article was originally published on Futurism.

A weird bump pops up. It’s probably nothing, but, what if it’s not? You don’t want to visit a doctor because visiting a doctor for what’s probably nothing is inconvenient and expensive. So we google our symptoms, and do our best to filter out the more terrifying results.

It’s easy to think these late night google searches are private and forgotten as quickly as possible. But it turns out that the government is watching. Not in a creepy “we’ve got our eyes on you” way, but in the way that Google search trends and geotagged tweets are already publicly available – and public health researchers are studying them.

So in a sense, your hypochondriac google searches were just you doing your civic duty.

In particular, two studies run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found links between patterns of syphilis outbreaks and the online activity of people in those areas. One experiment found that the Google history for 25 keywords, such as “STD” and “Find Sex,” were linked to the changes in reported cases of syphilis in that same area in the following weeks. A second experiment found the same pattern for geotagged tweets about syphilis (yes, apparently people are tweeting about syphilis) or unsafe sexual behaviors.

Collecting already-accessible data from Google and Twitter is much easier than developing the models that are used for tracking disease outbreaks and making public health recommendations – which performed just as well as these new methods. Specifically, the researchers tested both google and twitter against the CDCs existing models and the actual syphilis rates for 2012-2014. However, the researchers didn’t look at nearly long enough of a time period to actually be able to determine how the CDC allocates resources and funds.

This also doesn’t mean that a rise in tweets about unprotected sex in a given county will cause a rise in syphilis rates or vice versa. The researchers have teased out an interesting link between people’s online behavior and their sexual health, but not necessarily a predictive tool that would reliably track or help prevent future outbreaks.

In the meantime, keep on googling and tweeting about your weird bumps and bruises. You really never know if your one retweet and three likes could be contributing to the next great medical breakthrough.

Back to Main Blog Page

Schools with Online MPH Programs
A.T. Still University Online MPH
Benedictine University Online MPH
Concordia University of Nebraska Online MPH
Creighton University Online MPH
Des Moines University Online MPH
East Tennessee State University Online MPH
Emory University Online MPH
Florida A&M University Online MPH
George Washington University Online MPH
Idaho State University Online MPH
Johns Hopkins University Online MPH
Liberty University Online MPH
Loma Linda University Online MPH
Loyola University Online MPH
Medical College of Wisconsin Online MPH
New Mexico State University Online MPH
New York Medical College Online MPH
Northern Illinois University Online MPH
Nova Southeastern University Online MPH
OHSU-PSU School of Public Health Online MPH
Rivier University Online MPH Programs
San Jose State University Online MPH
Simmons College Online MPH Program
Tulane University Online MPH
University at Albany-SUNY Online MPH
University of Alabama Online MPH
University of Alaska Online MPH
University of California Berkeley Online MPH
University of Florida Online MPH
University of Illinois Online MPH
University of Massachusetts-Amherst Online MPH
University of Minnesota Online MPH
University of Montana Online MPH
University of Nebraska Medical Center Online MPH
University of New England Online MPH
University of North Carolina Online MPH
University of North Texas Online MPH
University of South Carolina Online MPH
University of South Florida Online MPH
University of Southern California Online MPH
University of West Florida Online MPH
West Virginia University Online MPH

Are you ready to learn more? Request Info from Schools



March 20, 2020, By MPH Staff

Most US gun owners support stronger gun laws

May 29, 2018, By MPH Staff

US health chief pledges more action if Ebola spreads

May 24, 2018, By MPH Staff

IMPACT Melanoma set to celebrate National Don’t Fry Day

May 21, 2018, By MPH Staff

Request Info From Schools