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  (Source: BYU)
Sick people tweeting symptoms may be useful after all

Brigham Young University has completed a study suggesting that disease outbreaks can be tracked via Twitter. The study found that posts on Twitter could be helpful to health officials looking to get a head start on outbreak locations. For the study, the University sampled 24 million tweets from 10 million unique users.

The study was able to determine accurate location information for roughly 15% of tweets gathered from user profiles and tweets that contain GPS information. The researchers believe that health officials could use an early warning system that monitors for terms like fever, flu, and coughing in a particular city or state.
 
The researchers found that location information in user profiles is accurate 88% of the time. All of this information means that public health officials would be able to capture state level info or better for 15% of tweets posted.

“The first step is to look for posts about symptoms tied to actual location indicators and start to plot points on a map,” said Scott Burton, a graduate student and lead author of the study.  “You could also look to see if people are talking about actual diagnoses versus self-reported symptoms, such as ‘The doctor says I have the flu.’”

Professor Giraud-Carrier and a group of his computer science students conducted the study. The results were reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. 

Source: BYU





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