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When And Where Ebola Interest Peaked Around The World

Using data from Google Trends, it's possible to estimate countries' attention to the virus. A BuzzFeed News data analysis.

Posted on October 17, 2014, at 6:02 p.m. ET

The news that two nurses in Texas who had treated a Liberian man with Ebola had contracted the virus has sparked a surge of interest in — and fears about — the virus in the United States. Data from Google Trends, which tracks "interest level" through the company's search portals, suggests, in fact, that U.S. interest in Ebola is currently higher than at any point in the past three months:

How does the U.S. pattern of compare to other countries? In the charts below, you'll see.

To create these charts, BuzzFeed News used Google Trends "interest" levels in "ebola" between July 18 and Oct. 15 — the most recent date available.

Google Trends doesn't report the actual number of searches for "ebola" or other keywords. Instead, it gives the highest-interest day a score of 100 for each country, and rates all other days relative to that peak. The charts are sorted to follow those peaks' chronological order, and include every country for which Google Trends reported day-by-day data.

The Early Surge

Though search "interest" in Liberia and Sierra Leone had increased in March, when the first Ebola cases were confirmed there, it peaked on July 31, shortly after leading Ebola doctor Sheik Umar Khan died of the disease.

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Thailand's interest peaked on the same day.

Thailand's interest peaked on the same day.

In a handful of countries without strong connections to the outbreak, interest peaked soon after. Googlers in Lebanon, Serbia, South Korea, Haiti, and Saudi Arabia searched more often for "ebola" in the first week of August than on any day since.

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The WHO Group

On Aug. 8, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern." On that day, interest peaked in nine countries in the dataset — Benin, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Israel, Malawi, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Nigeria. In some countries, such as Greece and Mexico, recent interest has nearly surpassed the Aug. 8 interest, but not quite.

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As of Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted 19 laboratory-confirmed cases and eight deaths from Ebola in Nigera. The first casualty, Patrick Sawyer, died on July 25.

As of Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted 19 laboratory-confirmed cases and eight deaths from Ebola in Nigera. The first casualty, Patrick Sawyer, died on July 25.

The Post-WHO Wave

In the week that followed WHO's declaration, a spate of countries — several in West Africa — hit peak-interest.

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A Positive Negative

On Aug. 18, the South African government announced that a man — who had been admitted to a hospital with Ebola-like symptoms — had tested negative for the disease. South African and two nearby countries hit peak-interest, at least according to Google Trends data, on that day.

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A Scare In Germany

On Aug. 19, a West African woman in Berlin was treated for Ebola-like symptoms. Doctors later diagnosed the woman with malaria, but the scare was enough to spark Germany's most active day "ebola" searches.

Interest in India peaked on the same day, and in a few other countries in the following days.

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Senegal Confirms A Case

See the chart below? That's what a country with a single case of Ebola looks like. On Aug. 29, Senegal announced that a man, later determined to be a traveler from Guinea, had been diagnosed with the disease. He survived, and Friday (Oct. 17th) the WHO declared Senegal to be Ebola-free.

Gambia — a small country entirely surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean — saw Ebola search-interest peak on the next day.

Gambia — a small country entirely surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean — saw Ebola search-interest peak on the next day.

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Two More Scares

A man in Mauritius who had recently been to West Africa was feared, on Sept. 17, to have the disease. He did not. And on Sept. 18, WhatsApp appears to have fueled a scare in Zimbabwe.

A Lull

No countries with daily Google Trends data hit peak-interest for another two weeks, when Jamaica did.

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(On Oct. 2, El Salvador announced it had quarantined two nuns. Search interest hit its highest level the next day.)

(On Oct. 2, El Salvador announced it had quarantined two nuns. Search interest hit its highest level the next day.)

... And Then Spain

On Oct. 7, a nurse in Spain became the first person outside of West Africa to test positive for Ebola. In the days that followed, more than 20 European, Commonwealth, and Spanish-speaking countries — plus a few others — hit peak-interest.

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(Ebola continues to afflict Guinea.)
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(Unfounded rumors appeared to emerge in early/mid-October.)

(Unfounded rumors appeared to emerge in early/mid-October.)

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The Latest Wave

For a handful of countries, Oct. 15 — the most recent date available through Google Trends — has seen more "ebola"-search interest than any other day in the last three months.

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