How Social Media Can Be Used to Track Disease Outbreaks
Friday, May 8, 2015
A full nine days before Ebola was even recognized by the World Health Organizations as an epidemic there was something else. HealthMap, a software that mines government websites, social networks and local news reports, identified a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” that was going around.
This raised the question: What potential do the vast amounts of data shared through social media hold in identifying outbreaks and controlling the disease?
A San Diego State University professor recently authored a study that shows the connection between predicting potential outbreaks (specifically pertussis and influenza) and social media and data from mobile phones.
Ming-Hsiang Tsou believes that algorithms that may be applied to tweets and information stored in mobile phones can be used to predict and track outbreaks.
“Traditional methods of collecting patient data, reporting to health officials and compiling reports are costly and time consuming,” said Tsou. “In recent years, syndromic surveillance tools have expanded and researchers are able to exploit the vast amount of data available in real time on the Internet at minimal cost.”
Given the popularity of social media, infectious disease surveillance systems that use data-sharing technologies to accurately track social media data could potentially inform early warning systems and outbreak response, and facilitate communication between health-care providers and local, national and international health authorities.