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Facebook and Twitter Can Help Researchers with Contagion

Update Date: Oct 04, 2013 03:35 PM EDT

Even though Facebook and Twitter are social media outlets created to connect people, the usage of these websites have extended into politics and even scientific research. In a new study, researchers reported that social media could help researchers collect clues when it comes to controlling infectious diseases.  

"Social media and other data sources can be tapped for insights into how people will react when faced with a new disease control measure or the threat of infectious disease," commented the study's author, Chris Bauch according to TIME. Bauch is a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Waterloo. "We can create models from this data that allows researchers to observe how social contagion networks interact with better-known biological contagion networks."

For this study, Bauch and his colleagues analyzed the use of social media when it came to discussions about health issues. The team examined people's reactions to different topics ranging from childhood immunizations to possible outbreaks. The researchers reported that using social network, especially by famous people, could influence how people handle health situations. The authors gave Jenny McCarthy, who spoke out against childhood vaccinations, as an example. If children do not get vaccinated, more outbreaks could occur.

On the other hand, the researchers stated that social media could also be used to help promote good behaviors that will reduce the risk of contagion. The researchers explained that the SARS outbreak was maintained with the help of social media, which encouraged and reminded people to cover their mouths when they coughed.

Based from these examples, the researchers believe that social media can help researchers determine how people will respond to disease control measures. By studying social media users' behaviors and attitudes, researchers can create new methods of dealing with infectious diseases that would generally be tolerated by the majority of the population.

The study was published in Science.

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