Social and News Media Enable Estimation of Epidemiological Patterns Early in the 2010 Haitian Cholera Outbreak

Rumi Chunara Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Massachusetts; Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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Jason R. Andrews Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Massachusetts; Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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John S. Brownstein Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Massachusetts; Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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During infectious disease outbreaks, data collected through health institutions and official reporting structures may not be available for weeks, hindering early epidemiologic assessment. By contrast, data from informal media are typically available in near real-time and could provide earlier estimates of epidemic dynamics. We assessed correlation of volume of cholera-related HealthMap news media reports, Twitter postings, and government cholera cases reported in the first 100 days of the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak. Trends in volume of informal sources significantly correlated in time with official case data and was available up to 2 weeks earlier. Estimates of the reproductive number ranged from 1.54 to 6.89 (informal sources) and 1.27 to 3.72 (official sources) during the initial outbreak growth period, and 1.04 to 1.51 (informal) and 1.06 to 1.73 (official) when Hurricane Tomas afflicted Haiti. Informal data can be used complementarily with official data in an outbreak setting to get timely estimates of disease dynamics.

Author Notes

*Address correspondence to Rumi Chunara, 1 Autumn St., Suite 433, Boston, MA 02215. E-mail: rumi@alum.mit.edu

Financial support: Financial support for this study was provided by research grants from Google.org, the National Library of Medicine (5G08LM9776-2), and National Institutes of Health (1R01LM01812-01) to RC and JSB, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases training grant (T32AI007433-20) to JRA.

Authors' addresses: Rumi Chunara and John Brownstein, Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, E-mails: rumi@alum.mit.edu and john.brownstein@childrens.harvard.edu. Jason Andrews, Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, E-mail: jandrews6@partners.org.

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