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.
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.
Earlier this year, this same group of researchers published a study showing that most exercise apps are based on bad info.
Follow @BYU on Twitter.
Joe Hadfield | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.byu.edu
More articles from Communications Media:
Peer-review science is taking off on Twitter, but who is tweeting what and why?
09.12.2013 | University of Montreal
UMass Amherst researcher quantifies the effectiveness of video ads
24.10.2013 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
11.12.2013 | Information Technology
11.12.2013 | Life Sciences
11.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News