Public Health 24/7 or Using Twitter to Advance Public Health

Smartphones changed the way we connect with the world: most U.S. smartphone owners check their phone at least hourly.

Essentially we are staying in constant touch with each other through our handheld devices. According to recent Gallup report, 72 percent of the respondents claim to check their smartphone at least once an hour, most of them several times. Young Americans are the most frequent smartphone checkers. 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds peek at their phone every few minutes and another 51 percent check it a few times an hour.1 Could it be due to socializing on Twitter, a powerful networking service with more than 500 million active users who generate more than 58 million tweets and 2.1 billion search queries every day?2

I think that Twitter’s concept: access to information in real time on a global scale is an important way for public health professionals to improve communication for “global good”. Emerging diseases require us to be up-to-date with knowledge of global health and health alerts.

In fact, acquiring information about public health in real time is critical, as Ebola 2014 outbreak had shown. Tweets started to rise in Nigeria 3-7 days prior to the official announcement of the first probable Ebola case, e.g., “#EbolaVirus 1st case discovered Lagos, pls spread the word” and “Guys,#EbolaVirus is in Lagos. Be informed. Be careful.” The first probable Ebola case was announced by the Nigerian Ministry of Health on July 27 and by the CDC on July 31.


By that time millions of people were alerted and aware of situation in Nigeria.3

Nowadays, global travel networks have made infectious diseases in distant and obscure parts of the world easily transferrable to our doorstep.

Picture of Air Traffic_CDC

Courtesy of CDC in Brief, 20154

Similarly, global social media has connected us and already serving as a powerful tool to promote public health, increase public awareness, rapidly detect public health threats.

Twitter user network

Map of verified Twitter’s users and connections between them (known as geotagging).5

Analysis of Tweets regarding Ebola prevention education messages showed that dissemination was inadequate as a result of limited following and reach, with no major news networks retweeting these important infection prevention messages.3  This highlights the alarming need for timely issue and mass dissemination of clear and simple health education messages for persons in affected areas as well as general public.

Ebola Education Tweets

It brings me to the discovery that our response to a global public health issues should be also global. We can accomplish this using globally reaching instantaneous social media connections, building our 24/7 list of followers, engaging with international healthcare professionals, providing accurate and credible messages and guidance for public, increasing presence of public health professionals in social media networks.

Right now, there is somebody searching for information concerning disease prevention measures or a personal health issue and there are very few professionals who are able to provide expedient input and advise. As public health experts we can be advocates for social networking with the public, contributing to change in knowledge and behavior. Important health information messages will become amplified through Twitter power of microblogging.

In conclusion, there are a few encouraging quotes on our pathway to master the social media skills: It seems like when you give people easier ways to share information, more good things happen”, Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter.

“Twitter is fascinating real-time example of good karma in technology. What you tweet out eventually comes back to you. You will be retweeted and mentioned and grow base of followers”, from “A how-to guide for nonprofits Social Media Social Goods” by Heather Mansfield.


1. Gallup Panel survey conducted among 15,747 U.S. adults who say they have a smartphone.

2. Review of Twitter for Infectious Diseases Clinicians: Useful or a Waste of Time? D. A. Goff at all, Clinical Practice• CID 2015:60 (15 May) • 1533

3. What can we learn about the Ebola outbreak from tweets? M. Odlum at all, American Journal of Infection Control 43 (2015) 563-71

4. CDC Brief 2015,

5. A. Fitzgerald: Adventures in Twitter fiction. Filmed July 2013 at TEDSalon NY2013.


5 thoughts on “Public Health 24/7 or Using Twitter to Advance Public Health

  1. The title is clever and reflects the subject of the blog. The use of graphics is great and on topic. I might expand the ones with text for better readability.

    The blog itself is a balance of credible information coupled with first person”voice”. I had a little trouble following the logic of the points you were trying to make. I understood that 1) many people own and use cell phones 2) this could explain why twitter is so popular 3) twitter moto “global time scale” could be harnessed for public health for “global good” 4) using twitter for “global good” includes reporting ebola outbreaks, education, awareness. Here is where you lost me- you then talk about social media as a platform, go back to ebola as a failure in timely communication and conclude that the response to health issues is a global one and dissemination of public health information and surveillance is a global concern? Microblogging can be an effective tool in the public health toolbox to accomplish these goals?

    Good use of references and effectively ties into both public health and course content!

  2. Good use of visual imagery, I feel it really enhances the blog. Your blog is very informative and you do a good job using credible data to get your point across. Your point of how quickly information can be spread through the use of social media and how that should influence public health officials to utilize the tool is a strong one.

  3. Pros – great stats, figures, and links. Looks like even someone else outside of school re-posted your blog!
    Constructive comments – I wouldn’t change much. However I noticed your geotagging link doesn’t work. May help to remember to double check and try out your own links to make sure they lead to the right source!

  4. Great post! Although I am a little unnerved by how much we all actually check our phones (guilty!), you really tied it in well to how connected we are and the opportunity for public health professionals to tap into that connectedness. Great use of the Ebola outbreak and how Twitter was used for it. My only suggestion is when you use charts and graphs to make sure they are big enough to read from the blog post. Otherwise, fantastic post!

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