Google Anticipate A New Coronavirus Our searches reveal symptoms: “I can’t smell” searches went off before exploding the New York focus
What if Google could help us predict a new coronavirus outbreak? Every day, millions of people around the world consult doubts about their health in the search engine par excellence. Why not use this data to locate unknown foci of Covid-19, especially in parts of the world with evidence deficits? Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, data analyst, economist and author of the best seller Everybody Lies, published in Spain by Captain Swing, has asked the same question.
To understand the hidden potential of Google’s accumulated data, Stephens-Davidowitz starts with the search “I can’t smell”, “I can’t smell”. Anosmia or loss of smell is one of the symptoms of the coronavirus, and some estimates suggest that between 30 and 60% of those infected lose their sense of smell. Well, in the United States, last week searches for “I can’t smell” grew notably in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Michigan, four of the states with the highest prevalence of Covid-19.
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Some researchers, including Vasileios Lampos, a computer scientist at University College London, have found that a series of searches on symptoms (loss of smell, fever, and difficulty breathing) have identified outbreaks worldwide. “Given that these searches are so strongly related to areas of the world with the highest prevalence of the disease and where the tests are most reliable, they could allow us to find places where many positive cases have probably escaped,” suggests Stephens-Davidowitz in an article published in the New York Times. And he quotes the strange case of Ecuador.
Official data says that while Ecuador has one of the highest rates of coronavirus cases per capita in Latin America, it has a lower case rate than the United States, Canada, Australia, Iran and most of Europe. Ecuador is the country that is doing the most searches on loss of smell, in relation to global search data. Searches of “I can’t smell” are approximately 10 times higher in relation to global searches in Ecuador than in Spain, although Ecuador has officially reported more than 10 times fewer cases of Covid-19per capita than Spain. Ecuadorians also rank high on the fever, chills, and diarrhea search list.
If Google can indeed foresee new outbreaks of coronavirus, searches from Ecuador could reveal that the incidence of the disease there is much higher than official data says.