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Opioids, Popcorn Lung and the Solar Eclipse: Your Health Questions in 2017

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America’s health concerns followed the roller coaster of news in 2017, from the battle over the Affordable Care Act to the growing opioid crisis to the solar eclipse. These topics, among others, saw the greatest increases in online searches this year, according to data from health publisher WebMD.

Though the flu, high blood pressure, cold symptoms and diabetes are always the most-searched topics among WebMD’s 79 million monthly visitors, the following issues saw the largest spikes in search traffic relative to 2016:

1. Powassan Virus

Searches up 4,400%

This rare and potentially life-threatening tick-borne disease was in the news in the spring of 2017, after researchers found the pathogen in Maine ticks, and Connecticut reported its first-ever human case of the virus. Though less common than Lyme disease, the Powassan virus is deadlier, and appears to be transmitted faster.

2. Glioblastoma

Searches up 1,400%

Following Senator John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis in July, WebMD saw a spike in searches for brain tumor symptoms and treatments. Glioblastoma affects about 5 people out of 100,000 each year; about half of all cancerous brain tumors are glioblastomas.

3. Popcorn Lung

Searches up 790%

Inhalation of diacetyl,the artificial butter chemical previously found in popcorn, has been linked to irreversible damage to the lungs’ smallest airways, a disease called bronchiolitis obliterans and known colloquially as “popcorn lung.” The condition was in the news this year amid health concerns over diacetyl found in e-cigarettes.

4. Opioids

Searches up 390%

The impact of America’s opioid crisis has continued to grow, and President Trump declared a public health emergency in October. Opioid overdoses claimed over 33,000 lives in 2015, a figure that increased in 2016, with more overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, than prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin and Percocet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5. The Solar Eclipse

Searches up 254%

A total solar eclipse crossed the country in August, leading many Americans to search for information about potential damage to their eyes. WebMD saw an increase in searches about protective eyewear and the consequences of staring into the sun.

6. Lead in Water

Searches up 230%

Public concern about the safety of drinking water remained high in 2017, as reports documented excessive lead levels across the U.S.

7. Affordable Care Act

Searches up 22%

Between repeated attempts to repeal Obamacare and the GOP’s recent removal of the individual mandate in the tax bill, the fate of the Affordable Care Act was in the news all year long.

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