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COVID-19 Warnings Were on Twitter Well Before the Official Outbreak of the Pandemic

COVID-19 Warnings Were on Twitter Well Before the Official Outbreak of the Pandemic

New research reveals that posts revealing concern for ‘pneumonia’ circulated very early, suggesting social media might be an efficient device for epidemiological surveillance.

Even earlier than public bulletins of the first instances of COVID-19 in Europe had been made, at the finish of January 2020, alerts that one thing unusual was occurring had been already circulating on social media. A brand new research of researchers at IMT College for Superior Research Lucca, revealed in Scientific Stories, has recognized tracks of rising concern about pneumonia instances on posts revealed on Twitter in seven nations, between the finish of 2019 and the starting of 2020. The evaluation of the posts reveals that the “whistleblowing” got here exactly from the geographical areas the place the major outbreaks later developed.

To conduct the analysis, the authors first created a novel database with all the messages posted on Twitter containing the key phrase “pneumonia” in the seven most spoken languages of the European Union – English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Dutch – from December 2014 till March 2020. The phrase “pneumonia” was chosen as a result of the illness is the most extreme situation induced by the SARS-CoV-2, and in addition as a result of the 2020 flu season was milder than the earlier ones, so there was no purpose to assume it to be liable for all the mentions and worries.

The researchers then made a quantity of changes and corrections to the posts in the database to keep away from overestimating the quantity of tweets mentioning pneumonia between December 2019 and January 2020, that’s to say in the weeks between the World Well being Group (WHO) announcement that the first “instances of pneumonia of unknown etiology” had been recognized – on December 31, 2019 – and the official recognition of COVID19 as a severe transmissible illness, on January 21, 2020. Particularly, all the tweets and retweets containing hyperlinks to information about the rising virus had been eradicated from the database to exclude from the rely the mass media protection of the rising pandemic.

The evaluation of the authors reveals a rise in tweets mentioning the key phrase “pneumonia” in most of the European nations included in the research as early as January 2020, resembling to point an ongoing concern and public curiosity in pneumonia instances. In Italy, for instance, the place the first lock-down measures to comprise COVID-19 infections had been launched on February 22, 2020, the enhance price in mentions of pneumonia throughout the first few weeks of 2020 differs considerably from the price noticed in the similar weeks in 2019. That’s to say that probably hidden an infection hotspots had been recognized a number of weeks earlier than the announcement of the first native supply of a COVID-19 an infection (February 20, Codogno, Italy). France exhibited an analogous sample, whereas Spain, Poland, and the UK witnessed a delay of 2 weeks.

The authors additionally geo-localized over 13,000 pneumonia-related tweets on this similar interval, and found that they got here precisely from the areas the place the first instances of infections had been later reported, resembling the Lombardia area in Italy, Madrid, Spain, and Île de France.

Following the similar process used for the key phrase “pneumonia,” the researchers additionally produced a brand new dataset containing the key phrase “dry cough,” one of the different signs later related to the COVID-19 syndrome. Even then, they noticed the similar sample, particularly an irregular and statistically vital enhance in the quantity of mentions of the phrase throughout the weeks main as much as the surge of infections in February 2020.

“Our research provides on to the current proof that social media generally is a great tool of epidemiological surveillance. They may help intercept the first indicators of a brand new illness, earlier than it proliferates undetected, and in addition observe its unfold” says Massimo Riccaboni, full professor of Economics at the IMT College, who coordinated the analysis.

That is very true in a state of affairs like the present pandemic, when lapses in figuring out early-warning alerts left many nationwide governments blind to the unprecedented scale of the looming public well being emergency. In a successive section of the pandemic, monitoring social media may assist public well being authorities mitigate the dangers of contagion resurgence, for instance by adopting stricter measures of social distancing the place the infections seem like rising, or vice versa stress-free them in different areas. These instruments may additionally pave the solution to an built-in epidemiological surveillance system globally managed by worldwide well being organizations.

Reference: “Early warnings of COVID-19 outbreaks throughout Europe from social media” by Milena Lopreite, Pietro Panzarasa, Michelangelo Puliga and Massimo Riccaboni, 25 January 2021, Scientific Stories.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-81333-1

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