Background: The use of social big data is an important emerging concern in public health. Internet search volumes are useful data that can sensitively detect trends of the public's attention during a pandemic outbreak situation. Objective: Our study aimed to analyze the public’s interest in COVID-19 proliferation, identify the correlation between the proliferation of COVID-19 and interest in immunity and products that have been reported to confer an enhancement of immunity, and suggest measures for interventions that should be implemented from a health and medical point of view. Methods: To assess the level of public interest in infectious diseases during the initial days of the COVID-19 outbreak, we extracted Google search data from January 20, 2020, onward and compared them to data from March 15, 2020, which was approximately 2 months after the COVID-19 outbreak began. In order to determine whether the public became interested in the immune system, we selected coronavirus, immune, and vitamin as our final search terms. Results: The increase in the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases that occurred after January 20, 2020, had a strong positive correlation with the search volumes for the terms coronavirus (R=0.786; P<.001), immune (R=0.745; P<.001), and vitamin (R=0.778; P<.001), and the correlations between variables were all mutually statistically significant. Moreover, these correlations were confirmed on a country basis when we restricted our analyses to the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Korea. Our findings revealed that increases in search volumes for the terms coronavirus and immune preceded the actual occurrences of confirmed cases. Conclusions: Our study shows that during the initial phase of the COVID-19 crisis, the public’s desire and actions of strengthening their own immune systems were enhanced. Further, in the early stage of a pandemic, social media platforms have a high potential for informing the public about potentially helpful measures to prevent the spread of an infectious disease and provide relevant information about immunity, thereby increasing the public’s knowledge.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention NRF: National Research Foundation of Korea SARS: severe acute respiratory syndrome WHO: World Health Organization
This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF), which is funded by the Ministry of Education (NRF-2020R1I1A1A01070465).
©Jinhee Lee, Yunna Kwan, Jun Young Lee, Jae Il Shin, Keum Hwa Lee, Sung Hwi Hong, Young Joo Han, Andreas Kronbichler, Lee Smith, Ai Koyanagi, Louis Jacob, SungWon Choi, Ramy Abou Ghayda, Myung-Bae Park.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health Informatics