Social Media Now Tracks Flu Faster Than the CDC
A social media health website predicted the 2012 flu season six weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did, according to the technology news website All Things Digital,
Using tracking and analysis via social media, the website Sickweather.com declared that the flu season began October 18, a month and a half before the CDC’s official announcement. Sickweather was able to make this claim after seeing a 77 percent increase in social media reports mentioning flu between August and September. Sickweather also observed a roughly 30 percent increase in the total volume of flu-related chatter compared to last year.
This is just the beginning of how social media is used to track public health trends. Data collected by many traditional institutions with formal reporting structures sometimes takes weeks to analyze. In contrast, informal media, such as social media, can provide information in near-real time. This new, quicker knowledge of data can provide earlier estimates of many health issues and epidemics, including the flu.
New technology has gotten the attention of many other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. They are now making huge investments in using social media to find better, quicker and more accurate ways to deal with health emergencies and get the right information more quickly.