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Medical Misinformation Can Spread Quickly Via 'Tweets'
Date:4/2/2010

Twitter users reveal misuse of antibiotics, including sharing leftover drugs, study finds

FRIDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- Medical misinformation can spread quickly on Twitter, although social networks also offer the potential for sharing vital and correct health information, a new study shows.

Researchers from Columbia University and MixedInk in New York City identified more than 52,000 Twitter updates -- called "tweets" -- that mentioned antibiotics during a four-and-a-half month period in 2009.

Of those, about 700 tweets included incorrect information about antibiotics, including misunderstandings and bad advice about how they should be used or evidence of misuse. Examples included: "Well, looks like I have strep throat. Anyone have some extra antibiotics I could snag?" and "If I need to share my remaining antibiotics, I will."

Other tweets discussed taking antibiotics for viral illnesses such as the cold or flu, even though antibiotics fight bacterial, not viral, infections, said study author Daniel Scanfeld, a doctoral student in computational biology at Columbia University. Other tweets were offers to share leftover pills with friends who might need them, a practice doctors discourage because of the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains. Still other Twitter users discussed that they were going to stop taking antibiotics before the full course because they felt better, another practice that can increase the risk of drug-resistant strains.

"Twitter is an emerging area where people are going to have to make decisions about who to trust," Scanfeld said. "My advice is to take all the information with a grain of salt, and get a second opinion from a doctor about what you should be doing."

The study is published in the April issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

To some degree, discussing Internet-based information with their doctors seems to be
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