By Sean McMinn
That was fast.
Just a few weeks after dominating news cycles and inspiring more than a few questionably appropriate Halloween costumes, Ebola appears to be plummeting on the American public’s list of concerns.
The beginning of October is when Ebola-related searches really started to spike in the U.S. But it wasn’t the first time Ebola had crossed into the country – that was back in August when Dr. Kent Brantly was flown from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
What set off the mass interest in Ebola was a series of incidents in late September and early October. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man, was admitted to a Dallas hospital with Ebola and died there. He was the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Two days later, An American freelance journalist working in Liberia for NBC was diagnosed with the disease. And about a week after that, two nurses at the hospital that treated Duncan were confirmed to have caught Ebola.
Per the Google data, Americans started going online for answers en masse in mid-October, right around the time we learned the two nurses had Ebola. Searches for “Ebola symptoms” spiked, reaching their peak Oct. 16.
To determine the trends, Google uses a formula that compares the number of searches done for a specific term to the total number of searches done in that same time period. Within a given period, it compares each day’s searches to the day with the highest proportion of searches. The highest day receives a score of 100/100, and each other day is given a score compared to it.
Until Sept. 30, searches for three Ebola-related terms were averaging about 3.5/100 on Google’s index. After spiking near 100 in October, they’ve fallen back down to about 4/100 during the last three days of data available.
One possible explanation is the lack of new patients being diagnosed in the U.S. Though Dr. Martin Salia died of Ebola Nov. 17 at Nebraska Medical Center, he was infected in Sierra Leone and was already extremely ill when he arrived in the U.S.
The most recent person to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. was a doctor in New York. Officials declared him Ebola-free in mid-November.
Meanwhile, infections in West Africa are still increasing, USA Today reported over the weekend. In the two-and-a-half weeks leading up to Nov. 21, the number of cases has jumped by 30 percent in Sierra Leone, 18 percent in Guinea and 8.5 percent in Liberia.