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A social media tool known for being a platform for breaking news, selfie photos and over-sharing the minutiae of day-to-day life could also be an important public health tool, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

San Diego State University researchers found that posts on Twitter seemed to accurately predict flu outbreaks in different regions across the United States.

Researchers examined tweets that originated within a 17-mile radius of 11 different cities between Aug. 31 and March 4, 2013, recording the usernames, locations, tweet information (whether it was a tweet or reweet) and any links used in the tweets.

Over that time period, 161,821 tweets were recorded that contained the word “flu,” while 6,174 tweets contained the word “influenza.” Then, the researchers compared the location data of those tweets to data on flu-like illness rates on city and county levels.

Out of the 11 cities whose tweets were examined, there was a statistically significant correlation for nine of those cities between the number of posts on Twitter regarding flu or influenza, and actual rates of flu-like illness.

Read the rest of the story here.


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