Apr 16, 2010

Twitter Signals Early Epidemic Warning

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

The micro-blogging site Twitter could act as an early warning system for epidemics, a team of experts at London's City University found in a new study.

According to a team of interdisciplinary experts, around three million messages — or so-called "tweets" — posted in English on Twitter between May and December 2009 contained the word "flu."

Their study was presented to the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) being held in Vienna this week.

"The numbers of tweets we collected by searching by keywords such as 'flu' or 'influenza' has been astronomical," one of the study's co-authors, Patty Kostkova, told AFP.

"What we're looking at now is, what is the potential of this enormous data set for early warning systems. Because it's a real-time media, it can call for an immediate response if required."

Among the so-called "tweets," the experts counted 12,954 messages containing the phrase "I have swine flu" and 12,651 saying "I've got flu."

They also counted the frequency of other terms, such as "H1N1" and "vaccine."

Kostkova's team is working together with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Britain's National Health Service in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.


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