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Twitter data used to track vaccination rates and attitudes
Date:10/13/2011

rmine clusters of like-minded Twitter users. "The assumption is that people tend to communicate online almost exclusively with people who think the same way. This phenomenon creates 'echo chambers' in which dissenting opinions are not heard," Salath said. As it turned out, that assumption was correct. Salath found that users with either negative or positive sentiments about the H1N1 vaccine followed like-minded people. "The public-health message here is obvious," Salath said. "If anti-vaccination communities cluster in real, geographical space, as well, then this is likely to lead to under-vaccinated communities that are at great risk of local outbreaks." He explained that, when unvaccinated individuals cluster together, herd immunity -- a population-level immunity that occurs when a critical mass has been vaccinated -- no longer affords much protection against disease. "By definition, herd immunity only works if unvaccinated, unprotected individuals are distributed sparsely throughout the population, buffered from the disease by vaccinated individuals," Salath said. "Unfortunately, the data from Twitter seem to indicate that the buffer of protection cannot be counted on if these clusters exist in real, geographical space."

In addition to location-related and network patterns, Salath was able to track sentiment patterns over time. For example, he found that negative expressions spiked during the time period when the vaccine was first announced. Later, more-positive sentiments emerged when the vaccine was first shipped across the United States. Salath also tracked spikes of negative tweets that corresponded, not surprisingly, to periods of vaccine recall.

Salath plans to use his unique social-media analysis to study other diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. "We think of a disease such as obesity as noninfectious, while a disease such as the flu is clearly infectious. However, it might be more useful to think of behavior-influ
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Contact: Barbara Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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