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Google Trends for Pain Search Terms in the World’s Most Populated Regions Before and After the First Recorded COVID-19 Case: Infodemiological Study

: Szilagyi, Istvan-Szilard; Ullrich, Torsten; Lang-Illievich, Kordula; Klivinyi, Christoph; Schittek, Gregor Alexander; Simonis, Holger; Bornemann-Cimenti, Helmar

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Journal of medical internet research 23 (2021), Nr.4, Art. e27214, 12 S.
ISSN: 1438-8871
ISSN: 1439-4456
Zeitschriftenaufsatz, Elektronische Publikation
Fraunhofer Austria ()
Corona; data mining; Internet; trends

Background: Web-based analysis of search queries has become a very useful method in various academic fields for understanding timely and regional differences in the public interest in certain terms and concepts. Particularly in health and medical research, Google Trends has been increasingly used over the last decade.
Objective: This study aimed to assess the search activity of pain-related parameters on Google Trends from among the most populated regions worldwide over a 3-year period from before the report of the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in these regions (January 2018) until December 2020.
Methods: Search terms from the following regions were used for the analysis: India, China, Europe, the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In total, 24 expressions of pain location were assessed. Search terms were extracted using the local language of the respective country. Python scripts were used for data mining. All statistical calculations were performed through exploratory data analysis and nonparametric Mann–Whitney U tests.
Results: Although the overall search activity for pain-related terms increased, apart from pain entities such as headache, chest pain, and sore throat, we observed discordant search activity. Among the most populous regions, pain-related search parameters for shoulder, abdominal, and chest pain, headache, and toothache differed significantly before and after the first officially confirmed COVID-19 cases (for all, P.001). In addition, we observed a heterogenous, marked increase or reduction in pain-related search parameters among the most populated regions.
Conclusions: As internet searches are a surrogate for public interest, we assume that our data are indicative of an increased incidence of pain after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as these increased incidences vary across geographical and anatomical locations, our findings could potentially facilitate the development of specific strategies to support the most affected groups.