Social media posts and online search behaviour as early-warning system for MRSA outbreaks

Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2018 May 30:7:69. doi: 10.1186/s13756-018-0359-4. eCollection 2018.


Background: Despite many preventive measures, outbreaks with multi-drug resistant micro-organisms (MDROs) still occur. Moreover, current alert systems from healthcare organizations have shortcomings due to delayed or incomplete notifications, which may amplify the spread of MDROs by introducing infected patients into a new healthcare setting and institutions. Additional sources of information about upcoming and current outbreaks, may help to prevent further spread of MDROs.The study objective was to evaluate whether methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) outbreaks could be detected via social media posts or online search behaviour; if so, this might allow earlier detection than the official notifications by healthcare organizations.

Methods: We conducted an exploratory study in which we compared information about MRSA outbreaks in the Netherlands derived from two online sources, Coosto for Social Media, and Google Trends for search behaviour, to the mandatory Dutch outbreak notification system (SO-ZI/AMR). The latter provides information on MDRO outbreaks including the date of the outbreak, micro-organism involved, the region/location, and the type of health care organization.

Results: During the research period of 15 months (455 days), 49 notifications of outbreaks were recorded in SO-ZI/AMR. For Coosto, the number of unique potential outbreaks was 37 and for Google Trends 24. The use of social media and online search behaviour missed many of the hospital outbreaks that were reported to SO-ZI/AMR, but detected additional outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Conclusions: Despite several limitations, using information from social media and online search behaviour allows rapid identification of potential MRSA outbreaks, especially in healthcare settings with a low notification compliance. When combined in an automated system with real-time updates, this approach might increase early discovery and subsequent implementation of preventive measures.

Keywords: Google trends; MRSA; Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; Nowcasting; Outbreaks; Social media monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infection Control
  • Long-Term Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Search Engine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / epidemiology*