The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is using social media in an attempt to predict outbreaks of norovirus in the UK.
Using Twitter data from last winter, the FSA identified when an increased use of certain words or phrases, such as #winterbug and #norovirus, occurred online. This was then compared to lab reports of norovirus outbreaks over the same period.
When these two data sets were compared, the FSA found a high correlation between increases in the number of lab reports and increases in tweets containing the key words.
The FSA also identified a set of symptom key words, including #barf and #flu, which strongly correlated to future cases of the virus being reported by laboratories. In some cases, spikes in the key words being used occurred up to four weeks earlier than when the FSA received the confirmed lab reports.