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Disease Outbreaks Trackable With Twitter, Study Says

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patient with mobile phone

Speed is the main advantage Twitter gives to health officials, researchers said.

Credit: Brigham Young University

Health officials could get a head start on flu outbreaks from posts on Twitter that mention symptoms, according to new research. A team from Brigham Young University (BYU) has sampled 24 million tweets from 10 million unique users, and says accurate location information is available for about 15 percent of tweets, gathered from user profiles and tweets that contain global positioning system data. The data could serve as a critical mass for an early-warning system that monitors terms such as fever, flu, and coughing in a city or state.

"One of the things this paper shows is that the distribution of tweets is about the same as the distribution of the population so we get a good representation of the country," says BYU professor Christophe Giraud-Carrier. "That’s another nice validity point especially if you're going to look at things like diseases spreading."

BYU professor John West says the program's biggest advantage is the ability to get information to health professionals quickly. "If people from a particular area are reporting similar symptoms on Twitter, public health officials could put out a warning to providers to gear up for something," West says. "Under conditions like that it could be very useful."

From Brigham Young University 
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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