Twitter can be used to track spread of infectious diseases

The spread of the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of having effective global surveillance systems in place for infectious animal diseases.

University of Guelph researchers have discovered Twitter can help detect the spread of disease outbreaks.

In what may be the first study to demonstrate Twitter’s use as an early warning system for tracking and mitigating potentially costly and dangerous poultry diseases, U of G computer scientists and veterinary researchers found 75 percent of real-world outbreaks of avian influenza – affecting poultry, not humans — occurring in the study period were detected on the social media platform.

The study, published recently in Nature Scientific Reports, found that in some cases, the outbreak notifications spiked on Twitter earlier than official reports from monitoring agencies.

Prof. Rozita Dara, School of Computer Science, says, “We hope to predict outbreaks earlier as a supplemental source of surveillance.”