In addition to finding a range of health ailments in Twitter posts, the researchers were able to record many of the medications that ill tweeters consumed, thanks to posts such as: "Had to pop a Benadrylallergies are the worst."
Other tweets pointed to misuse of medicine. "We found that some people tweeted that they were taking antibiotics for the flu," Paul said. "But antibiotics don't work on the flu, which is a virus, and this practice could contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problems. So these tweets showed us that some serious medical misperceptions exist out there."
Of course, the vast majority of daily tweets have nothing to do with an illness. While a simple approach would be to filter for words that are tied to illness, such as "headache" or "fever," this strategy fails on such tweets as "High price of gas is a headache for my business" or "Got a case of Bieber Fever. Love his new song."
To find the health-related posts among the billions of messages in their original pool, the Johns Hopkins researchers applied a filtering and categorization system they devised. With this tool, computers can be taught to disregard phrases that do not really relate to one's health, even though they contain a word commonly used in a health context.
Once the unrelated tweets were removed, the remaining results provided some surprising findings.
"When we started, I didn't even know if people talked about allergies on Twitter," Paul said. "But we found out that they do. And there was one thing I didn't expect: The system found two different types of allergies: the type that causes sniffling and sneezing and the kind that causes skin rashes and hives."
In about 200,000 of the health-related tweets, the researchers were able to draw on user-provided public information to identify the geographic state from which the message was se
|Contact: Phil Sneiderman|
Johns Hopkins University