COVID-19’s warning on Twitter was well before the outbreak of the epidemic.

Even before public announcements of the first cases of COVID-19 in Europe, in late January 2020, there were indications that something strange was happening, which was already trending on social media. A new study of researchers IMT School Lucca for Advanced Study, published in Scientific report, Has identified growing concerns about pneumonia cases on posts published on Twitter in seven countries, between late 2019 and early 2020. Analysis of the posts suggests that the “whistleblowing” came right from the geographical areas where the primary outbreak later developed.

To conduct the research, the authors first created a unique database with all messages posted on Twitter that included the keywords “pneumonia” in the seven most spoken languages ​​of the European Union – English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Dutch – December 2014 to March 1, 2020. The term “pneumonia” was chosen because the disease is the most serious condition induced by SARS-CoV-2, and also because the 2020 flu season was more miserable than the previous one, so there was no reason to think that It is responsible for all mentions and concerns. Researchers then made several adjustments and improvements to posts in the database to avoid reducing the number of tweets mentioning pneumonia between December 2019 and January 2020, weeks between the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement. States that “previously unknown etiology of pneumonia cases” were identified – on 31 December 2019 – and official recognition of COVID19 as a serious infectious disease on 21 January 2020. In particular, all tweets and retweets that contain links to news about the emerging virus were removed from the database to exclude enumeration of large-scale media coverage of the emerging epidemic.

The authors’ analysis has seen an increase in tweets mentioning the word “pneumonia” in most European countries included in the study by January 2020, such as pointing to ongoing concern and public interest in pneumonia cases. For example, in Italy, where the first lock-down measures to prevent COVID-19 infection were introduced on 22 February 2020, the rate of increase in mentions of pneumonia during the first few weeks of 2020 was higher than the rate seen in the same weeks Varies greatly. In 2019. This is to say that a potentially hidden infection hotspot was identified several weeks before the announcement of the first local source of a COVID-19 infection (February 20, Codonogo, Italy). France exhibited a similar pattern, while Spain, Poland and the UK saw delays of 2 weeks.

The authors geo-localized more than 13,000 pneumonia-related tweets in the same period, and ascertained that they come exactly from the areas where the first cases of infection were reported, such as Italy, Madrid, Spain, and the Lombardy region. In de France.

Following the same procedure used for the keyword “pneumonia”, the researchers created a new dataset containing the keyword “dry cough”, one of the other symptoms later associated with COVID-19 syndrome. Nevertheless, they followed the same pattern, namely that there was an unusual and statistically significant increase in the number of word mentions during the weeks leading up to the increase of infection in February 2020.

“Our study draws on existing evidence that social media can be a useful tool of epidemiological surveillance. They can help prevent the first signs of a new disease before it becomes undetermined, and its spread Track even “Massaco Ricaboni, full professor of economics at IMT School of Economics, who coordinated research.

This is particularly true in the current epidemic-like situation, when the omission to identify early warning signs blinded many national governments to an unprecedented scale of emerging public health emergencies. In a successful phase of the epidemic, social media monitoring can help public health officials reduce the risks of contagion resurgence, for example by adopting strict measures of social disturbance where infections appear to be increasing, or vice versa. They find comfort in the areas. These devices can also pave the way for integrated epidemiological surveillance systems globally by international health organizations.


“Early warning of COVID-19 outbreaks across Europe from social media” is available after the letter: http: // /Article /s41598-021-81333-1

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