Indexed on: 26 Aug '15Published on: 26 Aug '15Published in: Western Pacific surveillance and response journal : WPSAR
We conducted in-depth analysis on the use of a popular Chinese social networking and microblogging site, Sina Weibo, to monitor an avian influenza A(H7N9) outbreak in China and to assess the value of social networking sites in the surveillance of disease outbreaks that occur overseas. Two data sets were employed for our analysis: a line listing of confirmed cases obtained from conventional public health information channels and case information from Weibo posts. Our findings showed that the level of activity on Weibo corresponded with the number of new cases reported. In addition, the reporting of new cases on Weibo was significantly faster than those of conventional reporting sites and non-local news media. A qualitative review of the functions of Weibo also revealed that Weibo enabled timely monitoring of other outbreak-relevant information, provided access to additional crowd-sourced epidemiological information and was leveraged by the local government as an interactive platform for risk communication and monitoring public sentiment on the policy response. Our analysis demonstrated the potential for social networking sites to be used by public health agencies to enhance traditional communicable disease surveillance systems for the global surveillance of overseas public health threats. Social networking sites also can be used by governments for calibration of response policies and measures and for risk communication.