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When the Flu Bug Bites the Big Apple, Twitter Posts Can Tell the Tale

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A woman suffering through the flu.

Researchers say tweets can predict flu trends at the local level, as they do on the national level.

Credit: Getty

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers previously have shown that Twitter posts can reveal flu trends at the national level. In a new study, researchers from JHU and George Washington University say tweets also can predict flu trends at the local level.

The researchers sifted through billions of tweets to identify flu infections and where flu patients were located, isolated flu patient tweets to New York City, and compared their findings to the flu cases compiled by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The team's results accurately gauged the spread of flu in New York City for the 2012-2013 flu season.

The researchers used software developed at JHU to scan tweets and distinguish those from people who are likely ill, as opposed to people posting fears of catching the flu.

Many Twitter users list the cities where they live or use a global positioning system-equipped phone to tweet. "We found that we could do just as well in predicting flu trends in New York City as we did nationally," says JHU professor Mark Dredze. "That's critical because decisions about what to do during a flu epidemic are largely made at the local level."

The researchers believe their technique could be used to study crime, political developments, and responses to natural disasters.

From Johns Hopkins University
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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