Researchers find Twitter can help mine Ebola outbreak information: 3 takeaways

Days before the recent Ebola outbreak was officially announced, tweets about the virus spreading in West Africa had already reached more than 60 million people, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Here are three things to know about the study.

1. Researchers from the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City examined more than 42,000 Ebola-related tweets posted to Twitter from July 24 to Aug. 1, 2014, which was the same week Nigeria reported the first case of Ebola, Sierra Leone declared a national state of emergency and the first American was diagnosed with Ebola.

2. The study revealed nearly 1,500 tweets were disseminated regarding Ebola during the three days prior to an official announcement from the Nigerian Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Analyzing the content of the tweets, the researchers found the main topics of concern in the tweets were Ebola risk factors, prevention education and health information, spread and location of Ebola, and compassion for countries in Africa.

"Twitter adoption in African countries like Nigeria has been exponentially increasing and it's clear that Twitter is a useful resource for spreading breaking health news in these West African countries," said the study authors. "The results of this analysis indicate how Twitter can be used to support early warning systems in outbreak surveillance efforts in settings where surveillance systems are not optimal." 

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