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What’s on our minds in peak pandemic? ‘Oxygen’, ‘plasma’ and ‘remdesivir’, says Google

Indian social media has been inundated with posts about Covid — from availability or lack of oxygen and hospital beds to treatment options. What an analysis of Google Trends found.

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New Delhi: When it comes to Google Trends, the word ‘oxygen’ very closely mirrors the scale of the pandemic in India.

Oxygen, Remdesivir, hospital beds and plasma — these four words have dominated Indian social media, including Twitter and Instagram, for the last several days as the Covid-19 crisis intensified in the country. Desperate pleas seeking help — either with getting tested, finding a hospital bed, medication and oxygen — have been filling up timelines.

On Thursday, India recorded the world’s highest single-day spike with over 3 lakh new Covid cases, surpassing the US. It also reported over 2,100 deaths in the last 24 hours.

A Google Trends analysis of some of the key search words showed which issues were of high search interest and at which period of time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term.

ThePrint breaks down some of the trends for you.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

The word ‘oxygen’ is the best indicator of the scale of the pandemic in India. Google Trends data shows that interest in this word peaked last September, coinciding with India’s first coronavirus peak.

In the last two weeks, interest around the word shot up again, the graph resembling India’s current Covid-19 curve — an almost straight, vertical line.

This is not surprising as the country grapples with oxygen shortage. However, it also goes to show that such internet trends can be an early indicator of the upcoming crisis.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

The interest around Remdesivir rose around mid-April — when different countries around the world started conducting clinical trials around the drug.

In June, the interest around the injectable drug rose again when India approved prescription-based emergency use of the drug.

However, the word was not as popular as ‘oxygen’ was during the last Covid peak in India. In fact, the interest around Remdesivir had completely waned by mid-February.

Now, despite studies showing that the drug does not help cut mortality risk, rising interest in the drug has closely mirrored India’s second Covid wave.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Convalescent plasma or plasma from people with antibodies after having recovered from Covid-19 was another search term that garnered a lot of attention through the pandemic.

The interest around plasma peaked around late April and early May, the time when Covid cases had first started increasing around the country. However, as studies showed that the therapy was not as effective as hoped, interest waned.

Although during the last Covid peak the interest around the word rose again, it did not reach the same popularity as before.

In recent weeks again, interest around plasma has been going up once again with many people seeking plasma donors.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Favipiravir, an antiviral drug, enjoyed peak popularity at the end of June when the drug was approved for use in Covid-19 patients in India.

However, the interest around it fell in the subsequent months. However, as remdesivir became harder for patients to procure, interest around favipiravir once again started picking up, It is yet to reach the same popularity as Remdesivir though.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

A drug that studies have found to be effective in severe Covid-19 patients is a steroid known as dexamethasone. However, the interest around this drug seems to be the lowest.

Its popularity rose in June when clinical trial results showed that it can cut the risk of death by Covid-19 by a third.

Since then, its popularity has waned. This could be because the drug is low cost and easily available. Interest in the drug picked up slightly over the last two weeks.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Before the pandemic hit India with full force, there was a lot of interest around ventilators. However, as more and more data became available from hospitals — it became clear that oxygen was more important than ventilators for critical Covid-19 patients.

Accordingly, interest around ventilators did not make a similar comeback in terms of Google trends. However, since the beginning of this month, ventilators seem to be gathering some following.


Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

The humble anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine had at one point represented hope, even with then US President Donald Trump calling it a ‘wonder drug’, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘gifting’ it to other countries.

However, as it became clear that it did not benefit Covid-19 patients, the drug fell off the social media map.

(With inputs from Nigel Eccleston; edited by Manasa Mohan)

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