Twitter isn’t just a network for 140-character conversations, the micro-blogging service can also be an effective tool for tracking disease outbreaks.
A team of researchers at Brigham Young University examined the speed and volume at which Twitter can update health officials about spreading outbreaks. The group found that Tweets with geo-location enabled can allow officials to plot points on a map in order to detect a disease outbreaks path.
While only 15% of tweets regarding sickness are tagged with geo-location data, researchers say that is more than enough to track diseases.
To follow an outbreak Tweets are monitored for certain words such as “fever” and “coughing.”
In some cases researchers even believe that doctors can offer a relatively sound diagnosis based on a persons tweets.
The study examined 24 million tweets from 10 million unique Twitter users.
Researchers were not alone in their attempts, the dengue fever was tracked using Twitter by officials in Brazil.
With a bit more tweaking of their protocols researchers could soon be able to offer an early warning system for diseases via Twitter. The system could be used much in the same way meteorologists use the National Weather Service.