Electronic Media

Using Twitter to spot cholera: it’s what’s trending now

During infectious disease outbreaks, data collected through health institutions and official reporting structures may not be available for weeks, hindering early epidemiologic assessment.

Researchers in Boston and Quebec studied informal media as an option to provide earlier estimates of epidemic dynamics.

First, the details.

  • The volume of cholera-related HealthMap news media reports, Twitter postings, and government cholera cases reported in the first 100 days of the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak were compared.
    • HealthMap is an automated surveillance platform that measured the volume of news media generated during the first 100 days of the outbreak.

And, the results.

  • Online social media and news feeds were faster than, and broadly as accurate as, the official records at detecting the start and early progress of the epidemic, which hit Haiti after the earthquake in January 2010 and killed more than 6,500 people.
  • Using HealthMap and the number of “cholera” posts on Twitter, as the official number of cases increased and decreased, so did the volume of informal media reports about cholera.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Informal data can be used complementarily with official data in an outbreak setting to get timely estimates of disease dynamics.”

And, there’s more.

The outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) virus has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use social media and mobile technologies to disseminate information. YouTube, Twitter, RSS feeds, podcasts, embeddable widgets, and informational e-cards are all parts of the strategy.

1/12/12 22:18 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.