Do You Google Your Illness? That May Be a Good Thing

Your habit of Googling for a diagnosis may help detect an infectious disease epidemic. By searching your symptoms or even a specific type of illness, you are contributing data that may help stop an epidemic before it starts.

According to a new study, internet-based surveillance can detect infectious diseases, like Influenza, up to two weeks before traditional surveillance methods.

For example, researchers found that by looking at Google Trends and Google Insights, the Bird Flu outbreak in 2005-2006 could have been detected at least one week sooner. Essentially, digital surveillance allows for “real time” epidemic detection.

“Traditional surveillance relies on the patient recognizing the symptoms and seeking treatment before diagnosis, along with the time taken for health professionals to alert authorities through their health networks,” said Dr. Hu, Senior Research Fellow for the study.

Google isn’t the only thing online that could help predict future outbreaks of infectious disease. Social media could also play a key part in detection. “There is the potential for digital technology to revolutionize emerging infectious disease surveillance,” Dr. Hu said.

It’s not unusual for people to look up their symptoms online before going to a doctor. WebMD even offers a symptom-checking app for smart phones. Investigating what you have online is certainly cheaper than a visit to the doctor, and in many cases, can help you determine whether or not going to the doctor’s office is actually necessary.

Of course, if you have to ask whether or not you need to see a doctor, the answer is probably yes.

Online disease detection isn’t a perfect science yet, but Dr. Hu thinks that combining it with traditional practices can improve how we track and fight infectious disease outbreaks.

“The next step would be to combine the approaches currently available such as social media, aggregator websites and search engines, along with other factors such as climate and temperature, and develop a real-time infectious disease predictor.”

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81 comments

Magdalena J.
Alice L.about a year ago

Thank you!

Kim Janik
Kim Janik2 years ago

It can also stress you out beyond belief!

Michael A.
Michael A.2 years ago

TY

Manuela C.
Manuela C.2 years ago

Couldn't disagree more!
You may contribute to epidemic surveillance, but you're also disease mongering yourself, as you will probably end up with some serious diagnose instead of the "cold" you really have...

Laura Saxon
.2 years ago

I've never done that. Thanks for sharing.

Don Swanz
Don Swanz2 years ago

I don't "google" - generic phrase - my illnesses/symptoms so much as I do pretty much everything now days, from the vitamins & supplements that I'm taking, to my "chemo" drugs. This is done primarily, to check for interactions and to ensure that I'm not over-dosing. While the inter-net in general is a good source of information, my favorites are "ask.com" and "nutritionfacts.org. Don and I CAN! :-))

Winn Adams
Winnie Adams2 years ago

No

Cindy W.
Cindy W.2 years ago

I'm a big fan of Dr. Google. I don't get carried away, however, I've been right before. I diagnosed my Shingles several years ago right at the onset. My self diagnosis coincided with an appointment with my Oncologist. He was a little surprised when I told him I was pretty sure that's what I had but upon consultation with another doctor, he agreed, prescribed an anti-viral which helped prevent a serious case. If I hadn't googled the symptoms, it would have been completely overlooked because when he initially looked at the beginning of the rash, he didn't know what it was.

Amanda M.
Amanda M.2 years ago

I get online to find out information about symptoms of a disease or a condition so I don't have to bother my doctor (or because I want to know about it so I have questions to ask at my next physical, such as dealing with perimenopause). There's also a website called Global Health that allows you to track outbreaks in your area, and since I live in a town where NOBODY talks to stay-at-home moms and the schools don't seem to give a rat's ass about telling us parents when there's something going around that we want to avoid, such as sinus colds or a monster stomach virus, it's about my main way of keeping up on the "germ warfare."

Although since Maryland isn't required to notify the media about bug like norovirus (which if you ask me is even worse than influenza, especially since there's not a vaccine for it!), they're not much help there.

Gloria picchetti
Gloria picchetti2 years ago

If always google serious symptoms. Then I google the diagnostic procedure to see if I want to skip it or not.