Internet-based news feeds found to be faster at determining disease progression

A new study recently revealed that internet-based news and Twitter feeds were faster than traditional means at determining the onset and progression of the Haitian cholera epidemic that killed more than 6,500 people.

The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine, was the first to analyze the role of informal media sources in monitoring an outbreak in a resource-poor setting. It showed that such sources can provide decision-makers with critical and reliable data.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston concluded that informal media sources were able to track the outbreak in near real-time, and often much faster than surveillance methods that included surveys of hospitals and health clinics.

"When we analyzed news and Twitter feeds from the early days of the epidemic in 2010, we found they could be mined for valuable information on the cholera outbreak that was available up to two weeks ahead of surveillance reports issued by the government health ministry," the study's lead author Dr. Rumi Chunara said. "The techniques we employed eventually could be used around the world as an affordable and efficient way to quickly detect the onset of an epidemic and then intervene with such things as vaccines and antibiotics."