GOOGLE TRENDS AS A HEALTH INDICATOR TO MEASURE GRASS POLLEN EXPOSURES IN QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
Background: Grass pollen allergies signify an important public health and environmental health concern in Australia. More than 4.6 million people in Australia had Allergic Rhinitis (AR) in 2017-18. Patients suffering from AR prefer to access pollen information through internet platforms as they serve as an incredible source for tracking disease outbreaks and occurrences within populations. Google is one of the top three search engines in Australia. Google Trends (GT), a web-based surveillance tool provides daily search trends and real-time data towards any topic of interest.
Aim: To identify the association of seasonality of google search trend terms related to allergic rhinitis and with the grass pollen seasons in subtropical Queensland.
Methods: Daily volumes of Google Trends (GT) search terms related to allergic conditions and symptoms for Australia and QLD were extracted over five years and used as an observable metric to investigate interest in AR or pollen related information. To assess seasonality, we compared GT search volume trends with airborne grass pollen concentrations.
Results: Whilst GT searches for asthma in QLD showed seasonality, GT searches for pollen or hay fever did not show obvious seasonality, in contrast to seasonal fluctuations for similar terms being evident in Australia. However, at high pollen conc over 50 grains/m3 there was a significant but weak positive association with GT searches between “pollen” and “allergy”. A GT asthma peak in Australia coincided with the Melbourne thunderstorm asthma event in 2016, and GT pollen in Australia increased thereafter. Over the five-year period there was an increase in GT search volumes for “allergy” in Australia and QLD. The lag correlations between pollen conc and GT search terms showed that GT pollen and GT hay fever were significantly associated with airborne pollen when the pollen concentrations were high-extreme than low-moderate.
Conclusion: We evaluated the effectiveness of GT search terms as a monitoring tool to understand the burden of allergic disease in QLD during the pollen season. Our research indicated that Google Trends provides immediate knowledge of commonly trending terms associated with allergic diseases but cannot be relied upon to verify the actual presence of allergic disease in QLD.
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