Signs of Unusual Symptoms Spread on Twitter Well Before Official COVID-19 Reports, Study Shows


People in Europe have been tweeting a few “dry cough” greater than standard as early as January 2020, newly analysed knowledge reveal.

While social media has performed a key function in disseminating well being data throughout the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, the brand new findings present it has the potential to be helpful in different methods, too.


Authorities may very well be utilizing such platforms to acquire actual time, localised details about rising viral hotspots earlier than they’re detected by official means, statistician Milena Lopreite from the University of Calabria and colleagues counsel of their new examine.

“Our study adds on to the existing evidence that social media can be a useful tool of epidemiological surveillance,” stated economist Massimo Riccaboni from IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca.

“They can help intercept the first signs of a new disease, before it proliferates undetected, and also track its spread.”

Within a dataset of over 570,000 distinctive customers and greater than 890,000 tweets, Lopreite and group looked for tweets from seven European nations with key phrase “pneumonia” (in seven European languages) from final winter, and in contrast them with earlier winters way back to 2014.

After excluding hyperlinks to information to take out mass media protection, they discovered a major enhance of their key phrase in most of the nations throughout the 20190-2020 winter, in comparison with earlier years.

They repeated this with different phrases for widespread COVID-19 signs like “dry cough” and as soon as once more discovered comparable patterns.


For Italy, the tweets confirmed indicators of brewing virus hotspots within the first week of 2020 – weeks earlier than the primary case was formally introduced on 20 February 2020. An analogous sample was seen in France. For Spain, Poland and the UK this social sign of COVID-19’s presence appeared two weeks earlier than their official circumstances.

These findings present simply how a lot of a delay there could be between the presence of a brand new illness and our detection of it. 

What’s extra, “whistleblowing came primarily from the geographical regions that turned out to be the key breeding grounds for infections,” the researchers defined of their paper.

By integrating this data with knowledge on environmental drivers like air pollution, social media might show a robust instrument for monitoring new outbreaks, the group recommends.

Lopreite and colleagues word that this technique will not be a forecasting instrument for unknown new ailments, as a result of we do want to know sufficient concerning the illness first – to know what to search for.

However, it may very well be a useful gizmo for monitoring new waves of COVID-19 which are prone to come up as soon as restrictions like social distancing are lifted around the globe.


Between detrimental impacts on psychological well being to the unfold of misguided and even faux information, relying on social media does have its dangers. So it’s clearly essential that any new-found roles for these instruments include measures to hold them from being misused.

“Any integrated digital surveillance system set to monitor COVID-19 and beyond should be controlled by independent data protection and regulation authorities and adhere to a clear set of privacy-preserving and data-sharing principles that do not jeopardise civil rights and other fundamental liberties,” the group cautions.

But given the likes of Twitter and Facebook should not going away anytime quickly, we should always definitely be attempting to squeeze as a lot good out of these platforms as we will, whereas additionally sharing consciousness of and understanding the right way to rein in their shadier components.

“These findings point to the urgency of setting up an integrated digital surveillance system in which social media can help geo-localise chains of contagion that would otherwise proliferate almost completely undetected,” Lopreite and colleagues conclude.

So if (shudder to assume) we do must face one other new pandemic, we now know: Once key signs have been recognized, social media chatter might reliably reveal the place outbreaks are occurring, forward of different measures.

This examine was revealed in Scientific Reports.


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