The Use of Twitter to Track Levels of Disease Activity and Public Concern in the U.S. During the Influenza A H1N1 Pandemic

PLoS One. 2011 May 4;6(5):e19467. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019467.

Abstract

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its millions of users to send and read each other's "tweets," or short, 140-character messages. The service has more than 190 million registered users and processes about 55 million tweets per day. Useful information about news and geopolitical events lies embedded in the Twitter stream, which embodies, in the aggregate, Twitter users' perspectives and reactions to current events. By virtue of sheer volume, content embedded in the Twitter stream may be useful for tracking or even forecasting behavior if it can be extracted in an efficient manner. In this study, we examine the use of information embedded in the Twitter stream to (1) track rapidly-evolving public sentiment with respect to H1N1 or swine flu, and (2) track and measure actual disease activity. We also show that Twitter can be used as a measure of public interest or concern about health-related events. Our results show that estimates of influenza-like illness derived from Twitter chatter accurately track reported disease levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blogging*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype / pathogenicity*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • United States / epidemiology