A well-timed post or tweet from a public authority or trustworthy person could be as beneficial as flu shots, hand-washing or covering the mouth during a sneeze, they said.
"Infectious diseases are a serious problem and historically have been a major cause of death," said Faryad Sahneh, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering who is modeling the spread of epidemics in an effort to reduce them.
"During the last decades there has been a huge advancement in medication and vaccination, which has helped save many peoples' lives.
"But now there also has been a revolution in communication and information technology that we think could be used to develop an even more robust preventative society against infectious diseases," Sahneh said.
In a survey of college-age students about social media and what preventative measures they use against illness, the majority of participants stated they would be willing to increase preventative behaviors such as washing hands, taking vitamins or getting a flu shot if information on social media suggested it.
"One thing we're discussing is whether it would be better to receive recommendations or advice from someone people know and trust personally, like a friend or the university president, or from someone like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is an authority on the subject but has no personal connection to most people," KSU researcher Caterina Scoglio said. "It may be something where a best friend has more influence than a public health official."