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10 Jan 2012 08:35 AM

Social Media Trumps Traditional Methods In Tracking Cholera In Haiti


Special section in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene on disease in post-quake Haiti includes likely identity of first cholera case and Paul Farmer and Louise Ivers' expert perspective on why amid huge aid effort cholera 'exploded'



Internet-based news and Twitter feeds were faster than traditional sources at detecting the onset and progression of the cholera epidemic in post-earthquake Haiti that has already killed more than 6500 people and sickened almost half a million, according to a new study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.



The study is the first to demonstrate the use of data from "informal" media sources in monitoring an outbreak of a neglected tropical disease in a resource-limited setting, and shows that these sources can yield reliable decision-making data during deadly disease outbreaks almost in real-time, often far earlier than traditional surveillance methods that include surveys of hospitals and health clinics. The research was conducted by scientists at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.



"When we analyzed news and Twitter feeds from the early days of the epidemic in 2010, we found they could be mined for valuable information on the cholera outbreak that was available up to two weeks ahead of surveillance reports issued by the government health ministry," said Rumi Chunara, PhD, of the Informatics Program at Children's Hospital Boston, Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School, and the lead author of the study. "The techniques we employed eventually could be used around the world as an affordable and efficient way to quickly detect the onset of an epidemic and then intervene with such things as vaccines and antibiotics."



The lessons learned from Haiti's ongoing battle against cholera - the globally largest cholera epidemic in recent history - are included in a special section of AJTMH...
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