For the second time this month, a study shows the value of online tools and information--including social media--to healthcare professionals. Researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital determined that use of Twitter and Internet news uncovered a 2010 outbreak of cholera in Haiti two weeks earlier than health officials reported the epidemic, according to a study in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
As first reported by Mashable, the study's authors created a timeline using the term "cholera" and the Twitter hashtag "#cholera," and sifted through Twitter data from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3, 2010. The authors, led by Rumi Chunara--a research fellow at Harvard Medical School--found more than 65,000 tweets using the word "cholera" on the site. The researchers used HealthMap.org, a site that tracks news about global health outbreaks, and discovered nearly 190,000 similar Tweets posted within the first 100 days of the upsurge.
"Trends in volume of informal sources significantly correlated in time with official case data and was available up to two weeks earlier," the researchers wrote.
Earlier this week, we reported on news of similar findings regarding the use of Google Flu Trends (GFT) as a warning system for hospital emergency departments. That study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at the use of GFT over the course of a 21-month period from Jan. 2009 to Oct. 2010. Researchers determined that GFT "correlated well with several pediatric ED crowding measures" and concluded that targeted Internet traffic had the potential to serve as a good predictor of patient activity.
Since the epidemic, according to Mashable, 520,000 Haitians have been infected with cholera, with close to 7,000 dying as a result.