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Social Media Tracks Disease Epidemic More Effectively

By American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

New Study on Cholera in Haiti Demonstrates for First Time Tweets, Blogs and News Feeds Can Track a Disease Epidemic in Disaster Setting More Rapidly than Traditional Methods

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Internet-based news and Twitter feeds were faster than traditional sources at detecting the onset and progression of the cholera epidemic in post-earthquake Haiti that has already killed more than 6500 people and sickened almost half a million, according to a new study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The study is the first to demonstrate the use of data from “informal” media sources in monitoring an outbreak of a neglected tropical disease in a resource-limited setting, and shows that these sources can yield reliable decision-making data during deadly disease outbreaks almost in real-time, often far earlier than traditional surveillance methods that include surveys of hospitals and health clinics. The research was conducted by scientists at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

“When we analyzed news and Twitter feeds from the early days of the epidemic in 2010, we found they could be mined for valuable information on the cholera outbreak that was available up to two weeks ahead of surveillance reports issued by the government health ministry,” said Rumi Chunara, PhD, of the Informatics Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School, and the lead author of the study. “The techniques we employed eventually could be used around the world as an affordable...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.