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Disease mentions in airport and hospital geolocations expose dominance of news events for disease concerns


Joana Barros, Jim Duggan, Dietrich Rebholz-Schuhmann

Publication Type: 
Refereed Original Article
In recent years, Twitter has been applied to monitor diseases through its facility to monitor users’ comments and concerns in real-time. The analysis of tweets for disease mentions should reflect not only user specific concerns but also disease outbreaks. This requires the use of standard terminological resources and can be focused on selected geographic locations. In our study, we differentiate between hospital and airport locations to better distinguish disease outbreaks from background mentions of disease concerns. Our analysis covers all geolocated tweets over a 6 months time period, uses SNOMED-CT as a standard medical terminology, and explores language patterns (as well as MetaMap) to identify mentions of diseases in reference to the geolocation of tweets. Contrary to our expectation, hospital and airport geolocations are not suitable to collect significant portions of tweets concerned with disease outcomes. Overall, geolocated tweets exposed a large number of messages commenting on disease-related news articles. Furthermore, the geolocated messages exposed an over-representation of non-communicable diseases in contrast to infectious diseases. Our findings suggest that disease mentions on Twitter not only serve the purpose to share personal statements but also to share concerns about news articles. In particular, our assumption about the relevance of hospital and airport geolocations for an increased frequency of diseases mentions has not been met. To further address the linguistic cues, we propose the study of health forums to understand how a change in medium affects the language applied by the users. Finally, our research on the language use may provide essential clues to distinguish complementary trends in the use of language in Twitter when analysing health-related topics.
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Publication Date: 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics
Research Group: 
National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)
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