Disease Outbreaks Are Trackable On Twitter

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07 July 2022

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New research from Brigham Young University says such posts on Twitter could be beneficial to health officials who want an early warning sign of outbreaks.

The study sampled 24 million tweets from 10 million unique users. The study found that only 15% of tweets contain precise location data. play minecraft for free was gathered from user profiles and tweets containing GPS data. That's likely a critical number for an early-warning system to monitor terms like "fever," "flu" and "coughing" in the state or city.

"One of the things this paper demonstrates is that the distribution of tweets is roughly the same as the distribution of the population so we have a fairly accurate representation of the nation," said BYU professor Christophe Giraud-Carrier. "That's another good point of validity especially if you're going to look at issues like spreading diseases."

Professor Giraud-Carrier (@ChristopheGC) and his computer science students at BYU discuss their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The researchers found surprisingly less information than they anticipated from Twitter's feature which allows tweets to be tagged with a location. They found that just 2 percent of tweets contained the GPS information. This is a lower percentage than the percentage Twitter users have reported in surveys.

"There is a disconnect that's well-known between the things you think you're doing and what you're actually doing," Giraud-Carrier said.

Location information can usually be retrieved and analyzed from user profiles. Some people make use of the location field to make an opportunity to make fun of. "Somewhere in my imagination" or "a cube world in Minecraft." However, the researchers have confirmed that the data provided by users was correct 88 percent of the time. Apart from the jokes, a portion of the inaccuracies arise from people tweeting while they travel.

The end result is that public health officials could capture state-level info or better for 15 percent of tweets. This indicates the feasibility and viability of a Twitter-based system for monitoring health issues to supplement the data that has been confirmed from hospitals with sentinel surveillance.

Scott Burton, a graduate student who was the primary author of the study said that "the first step is to search for symptoms that are tied to location indicators" and then plot the points on maps. "You can also check to see if anyone is discussing actual diagnosis or self-reported symptoms such as "The doctor said I'm sick with the flu.'

The computer scientists worked with two BYU health science professors for the project. Professor Josh West claims that Twitter's main advantage for health officials is speed.

West stated that public health officials could issue a warning to providers when people living in a particular area are experiencing similar symptoms on Twitter. It could prove extremely useful in these situations.

Kesler Tanner, a BYU student, is a coauthor of the study. He created the code to get the data from Twitter. When his graduation is in April, he'll go to graduate school to get an Ph.D.

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