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Could Twitter spare us from more salmonella outbreaks?
SOCIAL media posts about your upset belly or last night’s dodgy kebab are the latest weapons used by health authorities to stamp out outbreaks of food poisoning.
Officials in the US are scouring social media platforms like Twitter and the business review website Yelp to identify incidents of salmonella poisoning so they can strike before an outbreak occurs.
And with Australia seeing an alarming rise in the number of people getting sick from salmonella, is it time for us to follow suit?
In cities such as Chicago and New York City, health officials are mining social media for keywords like “puking”, “diarrhoea” and “I went to a restaurant” that could flag a foodborne illness outbreak.
The approach is based on the premise that many people who get sick won’t see a doctor, but will whinge online instead.
Officials can then look at trends in that data in the hope of isolating the common cause.
“What makes this useful is the fact that we can get information that’s not actually going to public health departments. When people get sick, they usually don’t report that,” Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington, told the Washington Post.
“If we can see people actually reporting that they’re sick, you could get an early warning that there’s an outbreak happening. That’s the goal.”
In 2013, officials at the Chicago Department of Public Health built a program to mine Twitter for complaints about food-related illnesses.
And the results were amazing. Between March 2013 and January 2014, they identified 2,241 “food poisoning” tweets.