Association between Oklahoma earthquakes and anxiety-related Google search episodes

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Abstract

Background:

Oklahoma has experienced a rise in seismicity since 2010, with many earthquakes induced by wastewater injection. While large single earthquakes have documented mental health repercussions, health implications of these new, frequent earthquakes remain unknown. We aimed to examine associations between Oklahoma earthquakes and statewide anxiety measured by Google queries.

Methods:

The U.S. Geologic Survey’s Advanced National Seismic System Comprehensive Catalog supplied earthquake dates and magnitudes. We used the Google Health application programming interface to compile the proportion of weekly Oklahoma-based health-related search episodes for anxiety. A quasi-experimental time-series analysis from January 2010 to May 2017 evaluated monthly counts of earthquakes ≥ magnitude 4 (a level felt by most people) in relation to anxiety, controlling for US-wide anxiety search episodes and Oklahoma-specific health-related queries.

Results:

Oklahoma experienced an average of two (SD = 2) earthquakes ≥ magnitude 4 per month during the study period. For each additional earthquake ≥ magnitude 4, the proportion of Google search episodes for anxiety increased by 1.3% (95% confidence interval = 0.1%, 2.4%); 60% of this increase persisted for the following month. In months with 2 or more ≥ magnitude 4 earthquakes, the proportion of Google search episodes focused on anxiety increased by 5.8% (95% confidence interval = 2.3%, 9.3%). In a sub-analysis, Google search episodes for anxiety peaked about 3 weeks after ≥ magnitude 4 quakes.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that the recent increase in Oklahoma earthquakes has elicited a psychological response that may have implications for public health and regulatory policy.

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