A study suggests it may be possible to predict HIV and drug-use behaviors through peoples' tweets, map where those messages come from and link them to data on the disease to be used for prevention and detection, the University of California, Los Angeles reported Wednesday.
"Ultimately, these methods suggest that we can use 'big data' from social media for remote monitoring and surveillance of HIV risk behaviors and potential outbreaks," said family medicine Professor Sean Young, co-director for the university's Center for Digital Behavior.
Previous studies have examined how Twitter can be used to predict certain disease outbreaks such as influenza, he said.
"But this is the first to suggest that Twitter can be used to predict people's health related behaviors and as a method for monitoring HIV-risk behaviors and drug use," he said.
Researchers created an algorithm to find words and phrases in more than 550 million tweets collected May 26-Dec. 9, 2012, suggesting drug use or potentially risky behaviors, such as "sex" or "get high."
Putting those tweets onto a map to see where they originated, the researchers ran statistical models to see if these were areas where HIV cases had been reported.
They found a significant relationship between Tweets indicating risky behavior and counties where the highest numbers of HIV cases were reported.