Evaluating Interest in Off-Label Use of Disinfectants for COVID-19 with Google Trends
The Lancet Digital Health, Vol. 2, Issue 11, 2020
11 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2020 Last revised: 6 Feb 2021
Date Written: June 29, 2020
In the initial months of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made recommendations to clean and disinfect frequently-handled objects, triggering panic-buying of disinfectant products like Clorox® and Lysol® nationwide. During a White House press briefing on April 23, 2020, President Trump publicly implied that the White House Coronavirus Task Force should investigate injections of disinfectant as potential treatment for COVID-19. Across the United States, we evaluated Google Trends data to determine search interest from January 1, 2020 to May 10, 2020 regarding (1) the purchase and consumption of disinfectants and (2) poison control centers, which were included to examine correlated behavioral outcomes. Our work demonstrates a contemporaneous correlation between the President’s remarks and online search trends, with an over 3,000% overnight uptick in search interest for off-label use of disinfectants as well as increases in poison control cases. Public officials have the responsibility during public health emergencies to communicate issues that are evidence-based, and misleading information may adversely affect public knowledge and behavior.
Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, misinformation, public health, science communication
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