Twitter Faster At Tracking Epidemics Than Health Officials

Social media is revolutionizing real-time, breaking news, allowing marketers frictionless interactions with customers, and connecting people across the globe. And now you can add one more notch to its belt: New research shows that Twitter is perhaps a better predictor of how an epidemic spreads than health officials.

Mashable reports that a study on a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti found Twitter to be a faster transmitter of information than traditional health officials.

The study was published in the “American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene” and found that Twitter and other online forums published information about the outbreak up to two weeks before the official channels would release that same information.

To see how information about the outbreak spread on Twitter, the researchers searched for the terms cholera and the #cholera hashtag between October 20th and November 3rd 2010. They found a massive 65,728 tweets containing these hashtags in the two week period before the officials even acknowledged the outbreak.

This isn’t the first health-related initiative that focuses on Twitter. For instance, a Japanese company has created a “weather network of global illnesses” to track the spread of the flu, colds and other illnesses. A health professional in the US has also begun to use Twitter to track public sentiment towards immunizations.

There is a lot of potential in tapping a real-time social network like Twitter for health information. Tracking how diseases and illnesses spread in real-time, and using this information to help keep the public informed or enable health officials to act faster would be invaluable to both public health officials and the general population.

(Top image: Fer Gregory via Shutterstock)