Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Disease outbreaks trackable with Twitter

Date:
January 22, 2013
Source:
Brigham Young University
Summary:
About 15 percent of Tweets can accurately be connected to state-level location data or better. Most of that data is parsed from users' public profiles. Such volume means Twitter could be used as an early-warning system to monitor spread of diseases.

This flu season you've probably seen a number of friends on social media talking about symptoms. New research says such posts on Twitter could actually be helpful to health officials looking for a head start on outbreaks.
Credit: Image courtesy of Brigham Young University

This flu season you've probably seen a number of friends on social media talking about symptoms. New research from Brigham Young University says such posts on Twitter could actually be helpful to health officials looking for a head start on outbreaks.

Related Articles


The study sampled 24 million tweets from 10 million unique users. They determined that accurate location information is available for about 15 percent of tweets (gathered from user profiles and tweets that contain GPS data). That's likely a critical mass for an early-warning system that could monitor terms like "fever," "flu" and "coughing" in a city or state.

"One of the things this paper shows is that the distribution of tweets is about the same as the distribution of the population so we get a good representation of the country," said BYU professor Christophe Giraud-Carrier. "That's another nice validity point especially if you're going to look at things like diseases spreading."

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

The researchers found surprisingly less data than they expected from Twitter's feature that enables tweets to be tagged with a location. They found that just 2 percent of tweets contained the GPS info. That's a much lower rate than what Twitter users report in surveys.

"There is this disconnect that's well known between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing," Giraud-Carrier said.

Location info can more often be found and parsed from user profiles. Of course some people use that location field for a joke, i.e. "Somewhere in my imagination" or "a cube world in Minecraft." However, the researchers confirmed that this user-supplied data was accurate 88 percent of the time. Besides the jokes, a portion of the inaccuracies arise from people tweeting while they travel.

The net result is that public health officials could capture state-level info or better for 15 percent of tweets. That bodes well for the viability of a Twitter-based disease monitoring system to augment the confirmed data from sentinel clinics.

"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.'"

The computer scientists collaborated with two BYU health science professors on the project. Professor Josh West says speed is the main advantage Twitter gives to health officials.

"If people from a particular area are reporting similar symptoms on Twitter, public health officials could put out a warning to providers to gear up for something," West said. "Under conditions like that, it could be very useful."

BYU undergraduate Kesler Tanner is a co-author on the study. He wrote the code to obtain the data from Twitter. When he graduates in April, he'll be headed off to graduate school to earn a Ph.D.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brigham Young University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Scott H Burton, Kesler W Tanner, Christophe G Giraud-Carrier, Joshua H West, Michael D Barnes. "Right Time, Right Place" Health Communication on Twitter: Value and Accuracy of Location Information. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2012; 14 (6): e156 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.2121

Cite This Page:

Brigham Young University. "Disease outbreaks trackable with Twitter." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162359.htm>.
Brigham Young University. (2013, January 22). Disease outbreaks trackable with Twitter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162359.htm
Brigham Young University. "Disease outbreaks trackable with Twitter." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162359.htm (accessed March 2, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Computers & Math News

Monday, March 2, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

HP to Buy Aruba Networks in $3B Deal

HP to Buy Aruba Networks in $3B Deal

Reuters - Business Video Online (Mar. 2, 2015) Hewlett-Packard is boosting its mobile computing business... buying California-based Aruba Networks- a wi-fi network gear maker for $24.67 per share. Leah Duncan reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Curved Screen Give Samsung the Edge?

Can Curved Screen Give Samsung the Edge?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Mar. 2, 2015) South Korea&apos;s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd unveiled its latest Galaxy S smartphones, featuring a slim body made from aircraft-grade metal, in a bid to reclaim the throne of undisputed global smartphone leader from Apple Inc. Hayley Platt reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Giants Unveil Latest Models at Technology Show

Smartphone Giants Unveil Latest Models at Technology Show

AFP (Mar. 2, 2015) Mobile providers have been unveiling their upcoming models at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, showing off the latest in smartphone technology. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mobile World Looks to 5G

Mobile World Looks to 5G

Reuters - Business Video Online (Mar. 2, 2015) The wireless industry&apos;s annual conference gets underway in Barcelona with 85,000 executives taking part and numerous new smartphones and watches being launched. As Ivor Bennett reports from the show the race for 5G is one of the key themes. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins