Experts say Online Searchers for Certain GI Symptoms May be Linked to Rates of COVID-19

A study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology says that Google searches for a number of common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms may predict future COVID-19 infection rates in a region. Using the online tool Google Trends, researchers Imama Ahmad, of North Shore Medical Center, Ryan Flanagan, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Kyle Staller, of Massachusetts General Hospital, measured data pertaining to online inquiries regarding specific GI symptoms associated with COVID-19, including abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting, and infection rates from 15 states over a 13-week period. Based on their analysis using time-lagged cross-correlations, the scientists say a rise in searches for these terms was “followed by an increase in COVID-19 incidence” three to four weeks later, with “four weeks as the optimal gap between increase in search volume and increased case load.”

Ahmad, Flanagan and Staller note that, although Google Trends “is not an epidemiological tool for determining incidence, it can estimate the popularity of a certain disease by search volume over time.” They explain these results “underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of COVID-19 infection” and Google Trends may serve as a valuable tool for developing predictive models, both for COVID-19 and “pandemics with GI manifestations.”

Access the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology  to view the study, including a complete list of correlations between search interest and COVID-19 cases by state.

MLMIC continues to recommend that physicians, and other health care providers remain vigilant in assessing patients for possible COVID-19 infections and in reviewing available resources to keep up-to-date on this evolving health crisis. 

Policyholders are advised to monitor ongoing guidance for the management and treatment of COVID-19 patients. Additionally, MLMIC has assembled a number of critical resources to support New York physicians as they care for patients during the pandemic, including: