Tracking Sickness with Social Media, Internet Searches
the MPR take:
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Google attempted to track influenza trends in 2009 using internet searchers for flu-like symptoms and the number of healthcare visits related to the flu, but the algorithm has not been as accurate as expected. Google has made adjustments to the algorithm as part of the Google Flu Trends project, but other public health issues like Ebola, the common cold, foodborne illnesses, and HIV are also being tracked via internet information obtained from web searches, online news, restaurant rating websites, and social media. One of the obstacles for researchers is comparing real-time information from the internet with statistics from organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), which are released less frequently. One of the most successful examples is from Chicago, where the project FoodBorne Chicago scoured Twitter for tweets pertaining to illnesses that may have been due to foodborne pathogens from local restaurants. Researchers used these tweets to track down the affected individuals and collected 193 surveys on their illnesses and the restaurants; this led to additional health inspections at the listed restaurants, in which 16% failed inspection and 25% passed with critical or serious violations. So if you are feeling under the weather, post it on social media – it may be just what epidemiologists are looking for online.
What if you could track people getting sick just by analyzing how they surf the Web? Researchers from Google and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried that back in 2009. They linked the number of Google searches for flu-like symptoms with the percentage of doctor's visits related to the flu.
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