Twitter Can Help Health Officials Track Outbreaks


Sharing your health woes on social media can be beneficial for tracking disease outbreaks, a new study says.

Researchers at Brigham Young University found that Twitter's speed and volume can help health officials use the site as an early-warning system to monitor diseases.

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Tweets with location information may allow officials to plot points on a map to detect a trend, then alert providers to gear up for a possible outbreak. Though accurate information is available for only about 15% of tweets containing GPS data, it's enough for a system to monitor key words like "fever" or "coughing" in a specific area. Check out the video, above, for more.

Twitter can also help health officials differentiate between actual diagnoses and self-reported symptoms like, "The doctor says I have the flu," explains Scott Burton, lead author of the study.

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Burton and his team sampled 24 million tweets from 10 million unique users for the research.

It's not the first time the medical world has acknowledged the possibilities social media holds for the field. Researchers in Brazil also used Twitter to track dengue fever with real-time surveillance of data for individual cities, and systems like the Global Public Health Intelligence Network monitor websites and news wires to recognize the spread of disease.

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Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr, mil8

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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