July 17, 2024

Using Twitter Can Increase Food Poisoning Reporting

A study at Washington University in St. Louis has found that using Twitter could improve foodborne illness reporting and other public health issues, such as hospital quality and the spread of infections. The study was published in the February 3, 2017 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.


Dr. Jenine Harris, associate professor at the Brown School at the University said, “increasing trust and interaction between government and the public through social media are promising strategies for food safety.” The study is titled “Using Twitter to Identify and Respond to Food Poisoning: The Food Safety STL Project.”

“The dashboard technology has potential for improving foodborne illness reporting and can be implemented in other areas to improve response to public health issues such as suicidality, the spread of Zika virus, infection, and hospital quality,” she continued.

Harris partnered with the City of St. Louis Department of Health in October 2015 to implement the Healthmap Foodborne Dashboard that was developed at Boston Children’s Hospital. Researchers identified 193 tweets relevant to food poisoning in the first seven months of the pilot study. They replied to the tweets with a link to a form for reporting illness to the health department. Almost 7% of those tweets resulted in a report submission.The replies resulted in more filed reports than several previously existing foodborne illness reporting mechanisms in St. Louis during the same time frame, according to the report.

About 1 in 4 Americans gets sick with a foodborne illness every year. But very few of those sickened get medical care or report their illness to public health officials. Some food poisoning illnesses are considered “reportable illnesses.” That means when a doctor diagnoses a Salmonella or E. coli infection, they must report it to officials.

About 23% of the U.S. population uses Twitter. Researchers think that extending this dashboard to other types of social media such as Facebook could improve reporting of food poisoning outbreaks. Direct interaction on issues that are relevant to the constituent can provide time-sensitive education and mobilizing information.

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