Computer scientists developed a programme to track and analyse messages posted on Twitter containing flu-related phrases.
Using data from social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, could allow officials to identify disease hot spots and provide early warning information, the researchers believe. They point out that using data from GP spotter practices fails to account for people who do not access health services.
‘The hope is that gathering voluntary reports of symptoms posted by users of social networking sites, will allow for faster collection of vital, real time data,' Ed de Quincey, a computer scientist at City University London commented.
However, he added: ‘This will not replace more in-depth studies and tests conducted by public health agencies but could be a good addition to current surveillance systems, enhance the way health officials track how diseases spread and may serve as an early warning system.'
The findings were presented at the Health Protection Agency's conference at Warwick University this week.
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