Is Twitter a better predictor of the flu than Google and the CDC? Researcher says, yes

1:32 pm by | 3 Comments


[Photo Credit: Adam Sadilek, University of Rochester]

Everyone in the U.S. who hasn’t been living under a rock is aware that we have been hit by a particularly pernicious flu season.

And the key to controlling the influenza or any contagion is not only early detection, but also in predicting the trajectory of the disease.

Here, social media, especially Twitter, is playing a big role.


Adam Sadilek, a researcher with professor Henry Kautz in the computer science department at the University of Rochester, has done an interesting and rather extraordinary experiment.

Using Twitter and geo-tagging, Sadilek has modeled how an infectious disease may spread in real time by plotting data on a map using tweets from people and seeing how healthy people and sick people interact. That led them to create a heat map of New York.

Sadilek asserts that this shows “emergent aggregate patterns in real time with second-by-second resolution,” which apparently suffers none of the time lag that other, more established models coming from the likes of Google Flu Trends and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

You can see a video of how the flu overtook the Big Apple over one day here:

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Arundhati Parmar

By Arundhati Parmar

Arundhati Parmar is the Medical Devices Reporter at MedCity News. She has covered medical technology since 2008 and specialized in business journalism since 2001. Parmar has three degrees from three continents - a Bachelor of Arts in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; a Masters in English Literature from the University of Sydney, Australia and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. She has sworn never to enter a classroom again.
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Erick Kinuthia
Erick Kinuthia

Great thought Parmar. Many individuals seem to use twitter. Doctors should therefore not only use it in detecting flue outbreaks,but also in marketing of their medical services.


Erick Kinuthia



I wish  I never had to enter a classroom either. I think this was a very unique and well writtened article. Social media platforms play a very important roll in throughout the world. We at Pacific Medical are using them to to assist are marketing department. I would have never guessed twitter could be used to predict the flu.

Jonathan George

Social Media Associate

Pacific Medical LLC

Arundhati Parmar
Arundhati Parmar

Jonathan, thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to read my bio.