Research scientists in the UK have been using Twitter to gather information about Swine Flu.
A trial using the micro-blogging service as an early warning system was conducted between May and August, and tracked more than one million tweets referring to Swine Flu, including 'I have swine flu' and 'I have the flu', or mentioning 'H1N1', 'death' or 'outbreak'.
The findings of the trial will be published at the Infection 2009 scientific conference in Birmingham next week.
The study has been partly led by researchers from the City eHealth Research Centre at London's City University.
Patty Kostkova, one of the centre's research scientists, said that the use of social networking sites can significantly boost the gathering of intelligence about Swine Flu being used by public health authorities.
Twitter carries an advantage over other research methods in that posts are freely available and can be searched in real time. Kostkova described tweets as "an invaluable source for an early warning system".
The researcher added that her team is now trying to determine the geographic location of the tweets in order to localise early warning alerts for public health authorities.
It is believed to be the first time that surveillance of this kind has been carried out using Twitter.
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