To find out what’s ailing Americans—or at least which ailments they’re curious about—look no further than online search traffic. Zika, heartburn drugs and EpiPen prices were among the topics that saw the greatest rises in search interest in the U.S. in 2016, according to data gathered by health publisher WebMD.
While cold symptoms, the flu, high blood pressure and diabetes are always the most-searched topics among WebMD’s 72 million monthly visitors, who are largely young and female, here are six issues that saw big increases in attention this year compared to 2015:
1. Zika – searches up 433,558%
The sharp increase in Zika searches began when pictures were released of babies in Brazil born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, after their mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. Interest remained high through the Summer Olympics in Rio and continued as the virus began spreading locally in Miami Beach, Fla.
2. Heartburn drugs and dementia – searches up 56,480%
Search traffic spiked following the release of a study finding that seniors who regularly took certain heartburn drugs—such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid—were 44% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
3. Rising cost of EpiPens – searched up 1,677%
Readers searched for information about EpiPens, which are used to treat severe allergic reactions, after drug company Mylan raised the price of the medication by 500% to more than $600.
4. Food recalls – searches up 263%
Search traffic rose after hummus company Sabra voluntarily recalled some of its products for possible listeria contamination. Nature Valley, Nestle and Clif Bar also issued recalls in 2016 and drove search traffic on WebMD.
5. Opioid abuse – searches up 228%
Searches related to opioids rose after news broke that Prince died by opioid overdose.
6. Cupping – searches up 136%
During the Summer Olympics, Gold medalist Michael Phelps brought attention to cupping, an ancient Chinese practice thought to loosen muscles and improve circulation by drawing blood to a certain area. Interest remained high for two months following the Olympics.
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