BRASILIA, Brazil, July 18 (UPI) -- Brazil could help track and slow the spread of dengue fever by using social networking sites like Twitter to track outbreaks, health researchers say.
Tracking diseases in real time through social media has been done before, as with the worldwide 2009 swine flu outbreak, but when dengue season begins in Brazil this November it will be the first time data on the scale of individual cities have been collected in this way, NewScientist.com reported Monday.
Software created by the Brazilian National Institutes of Science and Technology that filters tweets for mention of the word "dengue" will help identify a high correlation between the time and place where people tweet they have the fever and the official statistics for where the disease appears each season, health officials said.
Brazil experiences outbreaks of dengue every year but the location of the outbreaks varies from year to year. Medical notifications of the disease can take weeks to analyze, researchers said, making it difficult for health authorities to decide where to concentrate resources.
Analyzing Twitter messages could mean a much faster response, said Wagner Meira, a computer scientist at the Federal University of Minus Gerais.
"It isn't predicting the future but the present," he says. "This means we aren't weeks behind like we used to be."