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Google Search Patterns Could Track Mrsa Spread

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Diane Lauderdale

University of Chicago Medical Center

Google searches might enable public health experts to better fight drug-resistant staph infections. Researchers led by the University of Chicago's Diane Lauderdale compared records of Google searches for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) between 2004 and 2008 with MRSA-related hospitalization records, and found that the numbers matched, except for a search burst after a 2007 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. The research suggests that search data would be a reliable indicator of infection.

Currently, there is no surveillance system to track MRSA infections overall, and the CDC uses the Active Bacterial Core surveillance program, which focuses on nine regions.

Google searches have the potential to provide near real-time, city-by-city information about the spread of MRSA. "Potentially, we can get from Google a more timely measure of trends," Lauderdale says. The methodology is similar to that used by Google Flu Trends, but more tests are needed to be certain it works.

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