The digital future of infectious disease maps

Wellcome Trust Blog

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You are stuck in bed with a snotty nose and flu. You grab your smart phone and use 140 characters to declare to your Twitter followers: “Feel awful. Fever burning up my bed #sickday”. Unbeknownst to you, your tweet could be part of a global effort to map infectious diseases.

Tweets have been shown to be extremely useful in predicting outbreaks of disease. In the US, studies have found that analysing trends on Twitter could indicate an outbreak of flu two or three weeks before the Centres for Disease Control and Prediction announce a problem. It does, however, come with a note of caution and a warning about common sense. In one study they found a massive spike monitoring the symptom word “fever”. Closer inspection revealed the tweets were a meme about pop star Justin Bieber (“Bieber Fever”).

Tweets are among the innovative information-gathering methods David Pigott and a…

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