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The Influence of Media Coverage and Governmental Policies on Google Queries Related to COVID-19 Cutaneous Symptoms: Infodemiology Study

  • Huynh Dagher, Solene1
  • Lamé, Guillaume2
  • Hubiche, Thomas3
  • Ezzedine, Khaled1, 4
  • Duong, Tu Anh1, 4
  • 1 Hôpital Henri Mondor, Créteil , (France)
  • 2 Université Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette , (France)
  • 3 Centre hospitalier universitaire de Nice, Nice , (France)
  • 4 Université Paris-Est Créteil, Créteil , (France)
Published Article
JMIR Public Health and Surveillance
JMIR Publications
Publication Date
Feb 25, 2021
DOI: 10.2196/25651
PMID: 33513563
PMCID: PMC7909455
PubMed Central
  • Original Paper
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Background During COVID-19, studies have reported the appearance of internet searches for disease symptoms before their validation by the World Health Organization. This suggested that monitoring of these searches with tools including Google Trends may help monitor the pandemic itself. In Europe and North America, dermatologists reported an unexpected outbreak of cutaneous acral lesions (eg, chilblain-like lesions) in April 2020. However, external factors such as public communications may also hinder the use of Google Trends as an infodemiology tool. Objective The study aimed to assess the impact of media announcements and lockdown enforcement on internet searches related to cutaneous acral lesions during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Methods Two searches on Google Trends, including daily relative search volumes for (1) “toe” or “chilblains” and (2) “coronavirus,” were performed from January 1 to May 16, 2020, with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany as the countries of choice. The ratio of interest over time in “chilblains” and “coronavirus” was plotted. To assess the impact of lockdown enforcement and media coverage on these internet searches, we performed an interrupted time-series analysis for each country. Results The ratio of interest over time in “chilblains” to “coronavirus” showed a constant upward trend. In France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, lockdown enforcement was associated with a significant slope change for “chilblain” searches with a variation coefficient of 1.06 (SE 0.42) ( P =0.01), 1.04 (SE 0.28) ( P <.01), and 1.21 (SE 0.44) ( P =0.01), respectively. After media announcements, these ratios significantly increased in France, Spain, Italy, and the United States with variation coefficients of 18.95 (SE 5.77) ( P =.001), 31.31 (SE 6.31) ( P <.001), 14.57 (SE 6.33) ( P =.02), and 11.24 (SE 4.93) ( P =.02), respectively, followed by a significant downward trend in France (–1.82 [SE 0.45]), Spain (–1.10 [SE 0.38]), and Italy (–0.93 [SE 0.33]) ( P <.001, P =0.004, and P <.001, respectively). The adjusted R2 values were 0.311, 0.351, 0.325, and 0.305 for France, Spain, Italy, and the United States, respectively, suggesting an average correlation between time and the search volume; however, this correlation was weak for Germany and the United Kingdom. Conclusions To date, the association between chilblain-like lesions and COVID-19 remains controversial; however, our results indicate that Google queries of “chilblain” were highly influenced by media coverage and government policies, indicating that caution should be exercised when using Google Trends as a monitoring tool for emerging diseases.

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