What some people might think of as online entertainment or a fun way to stay in touch with friends has turned into a communications boon for the public health community, particularly in times of crisis.
Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook are allowing public health officials to reach out fast and directly to the public on everything from salmonella-related food recalls to disease outbreaks and weather emergencies.
Federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have recognized the power of social media, using the broad reach of the online community to help distribute important health information and learn what issues are popping up across the country at any given time.
The American Red Cross’ “Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies” survey of 1,058 adults indicates that 18 percent would turn to digital social media if calls to 911 were unsuccessful.
Sixty-nine percent of the adults surveyed said emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their Web sites and social media networks so they can respond promptly to requests for help posted there; 74 percent said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.
Flu is one area in which social media platforms have most proven their value, As an infectious Disease physician , I have monitored closely the role of public health in such situation.
Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invests in a national awareness campaign to educate the general population about the importance of influenza vaccination.Throughout the fall and winter months, CDC promotes this campaign nationally through a mix of communication channels and in collaboration with national and grassroots partners who organize flu promotion activities and events.
One way in which partners can help support this effort is by working with their local media to help inform the public about the serious complications the flu can cause, and the importance of vaccination
A 2010 study in published the journal PLOS One found that by analyzing topic content on social networks, flu outbreaks can be predicted earlier than by traditional tracking methods. In another study published a year later — also in the journal PLOS One — researchers examined Twitter to track public reports of H1N1 or swine flu, and to track and measure actual disease activity. It found that Twitter content predicted flu outbreaks one to two weeks ahead of the CDC’s surveillance average.
In addition to the use of media for emergency situations , each year, CDC invests in a national awareness campaign to educate the general population about the importance of influenza vaccination. Throughout the fall and winter months, CDC promotes this campaign nationally through a mix of communication channels and in collaboration with national and grassroots partners who organize flu promotion activities mostly online and through the media . This is a huge preventive step that will have a great positive outcome and I hope it will become a great model for all other public health organizations .