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Social Media Sites Could Turn into Early Warning System for Illness Outbreaks

by Reshma Anand on November 12, 2015 at 5:05 PM
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Social Media Sites Could Turn into Early Warning System for Illness Outbreaks

People tend to constantly update about their life happenings on popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, health officials think that these tweets can act as early warning system for food-borne illness such as norovirus.

A project by the Food Standards Agency's has tracked tweets related to illness after eating and then used special software to analyse spikes in where and how the same words were used. The Food Standards Agency is the government body responsible for monitoring food safety and hygiene across the UK.

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The strategy has detected "several" UK norovirus outbreaks up to two weeks before Public Health England detected them and has also won an award in technological innovation.

Professor Guy Poppy said, "Twitter could be a good way of picking up early indications of issues surrounding food. We can use it to provide a causal link between people tweeting and the outbreaks happening.
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This system could also be used to help hospitals and healthcare providers prepare for an influx of patients.

"The next stage is to start predicting outbreaks and then working with organizations such as the NHS towards what we can do about that. This can help prepare hospitals and we are working with PhD students to explore what else we might be able to use the information for in terms of food and business," he added.

Researchers are also planning to monitor about the eating and cooking practices inside family through kitchen appliances such as oven and cookers to help them understand the necessary changes required to make it safe for consumption and prevent food-borne illnesses.

Prof Poppy added, "Big data generated by social media searches could give an insight into people's eating and cooking habits in the home to help the organization develop food safety and hygiene guidelines."

Source: Medindia
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