An analysis of tweets sent in Spain and six other European countries from the end of 2019 to the beginning of 2020 shows that people are increasingly worried about pneumonia and dry cough, which were later related to the coronavirus. The study recommends the use of social networks as an early warning and surveillance tool for epidemics.
Even before the first case Coronavirus disease In Europe, by the end of January 2020, there are already signs on social media that strange things are happening.
A study led by researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Lucca (IMC), Italy, was released this week Scientific report Clues of growing concern about pneumonia cases were found in the posted emails Twitter in Seven European countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom) between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
The analysis of these tweets shows that “whistle blowing” happened to come from the geographic region of Europe, where the first outbreak of the epidemic occurred.
In order to conduct research, the author first created a database containing all the keywords posted on Twitter “pneumoniaFrom December 2014 to March 1, 2020 in the seven most widely spoken languages of the European Union (English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Dutch)
The term “pneumonia” was chosen because the disease is the most serious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, and because the 2020 flu season is milder than the previous flu, there is no reason to think it has a reason. Mention and attention.
Subsequently, the author conducted a series of Adjustments and corrections Avoid overestimating the number of tweets mentioning pneumonia between December 2019 and January 2020 in the news in the database, that is, the WHO announced that the first batch of “pneumonia cases of unknown etiology” had been identified In a few weeks, December 31, 2019) and officially recognized covid-19 as a serious infectious disease (January 21, 2020).
In particular, all tweets and retweets containing viral news links have been deleted from the database to exclude media coverage of emerging pandemics from the count.
The geographic location of tweets related to “pneumonia” posted in Europe since December 2019. On the first map, the number of users who have discussed the matter is from December 15, 2019 to January 21, 2020 (after filtering relevant news); second, between the winter of 2019 and 2020, The relative change in the number of users talking about pneumonia. /M. Lopreite, M. Riccaboni et al./Scientific Reports
Increase in tweets about “pneumonia” in January 2020
The results show that as early as January 2020, in most European countries, the number of tweets mentioning the keyword “pneumonia” has increased, indicating that the attention and public attention to the disease cases is increasing day by day.
in ItalyFor example, when the first measures to curb COVID-19 infection were adopted on February 22, 2020, the rate of pneumonia mentioned in the first week of last year was very different from the rate observed in the same week of 2019.
In other words, several weeks before the announcement of the first local source of COVID-19 infection in Codogno, Italy on February 20, the potential source of infection has been identified. France showed a similar pattern, while Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom experienced two-week delays.
The author also geolocated more than 13,000 pneumonia-related tweets during the same period and found that they happened to come from the exact regions where the first cases of infection were later reported, such as Lombardy in Italy, Madrid and Paris in Spain. In France.
At the same time remind “dry cough”
Following the same procedure used for “pneumonia”, the research team also generated a new data set with the keyword “dry cough“Later, another symptom related to covid-19 appeared. They also observed the same pattern. Within a few weeks, the number of mentions of the word was abnormal and statistically increased, leading to the infection in February 2020. The number of people increased.
“Our research adds to the existing evidence that social networks can be useful epidemiological surveillance tools. They can help intercept the first signs of new diseases before they have spread and track their spread.” Massimo RiccaboniHe is a professor of economics at IMT College, and he coordinated this research.
According to the authors, this is especially evident in a pandemic like the current situation, when the early warning signs were not confirmed, and many governments turned a blind eye to the coming large-scale health crisis.
In the follow-up phase of the pandemic, social media monitoring can help public health authorities Reduce the risk of rebirth For example, where infectious diseases seem to be increasing, adopt stricter social distancing measures, and vice versa, relax the spread of infectious diseases in other areas.
These tools can also pave the way for the establishment of integrated systems. Epidemiological surveillance The researchers concluded that it is managed by the International Health Organization on a global scale.
Milena Lopreite and others. “European early warning of the COVID-19 outbreak from social media”. Scientific report, 2021