Twitter could help fight spread of disease

Twitter could become a key tool in the fight to contain the spread of illnesses and viruses if a new mapping technology that examines the health-related tweets of users takes-off.

The graphical mapping system, called Kazemill, is an online service that alerts users to the spread of illnesses by monitoring Twitter activity and sifting for relevant data from Tweets on an hourly basis.

Kazemill, which shows real-time data on a colour-coded map to show the spread of symptoms that Twitter users are complaining about, has been developed by IPG-owned ad agency McCann Healthcare Worldwide.

There are plans to develop the Twitter-based mapping system to a “TV like” experience — creating seasonal illness “forecasts” that echo TV weather bulletins about the spread of cold, flu and hayfever.

‘Orange for itchy throat’
The agency said that the technology is clever enough to distinguish between an innocuous tweet about feeling a bit rubbish and a revelant one relating to more serious symptoms.

In the first instance the agency is working with Tokyo-based pharmaceuticals company SSP, a subsidiary of Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, which makes over-the-counter products for ailments including cold and flu remedies.

“Twitter and social marketing makes perfect sense when tackling illness and disease, more so with diseases that are seasonal and recurring,” said Kazuhiro Koshidaka, head of marketing at SSP.

In the version developed for Japan, 18 000 daily mentions of specific symptoms — such as throat pain, runny nose or chills — are gathered along with geographic information and overlayed on a map of the country.

Colours — such as orange for itchy throat, purple for a cough and red for fever — show viewers of the online map the spread of illnesses and the prevalence in particular areas. The algorithm has been developed in conjunction with Tokyo University’s Centre for Knowledge Structuring.

The product is expected to be rolled out with a range of partners across the world over the next year. –

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