Coughing, sneezing, and aching online: Twitter and the volume of influenza-like illness in a pediatric hospital

David M. Hartley*, Courtney M. Giannini, Stephanie Wilson, Ophir Frieder, Peter A. Margolis, Uma R. Kotagal, Denise L. White, Beverly L. Connelly, Derek S. Wheeler, Dawit G. Tadesse, Maurizio Macaluso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This study investigates the relation of the incidence of georeferenced tweets related to respiratory illness to the incidence of influenza-like illness (ILI) in the emergency department (ED) and urgent care clinics (UCCs) of a large pediatric hospital. We collected (1) tweets in English originating in our hospital’s primary service area between 11/1/2014 and 5/1/2015 and containing one or more specific terms related to respiratory illness and (2) the daily number of patients presenting to our hospital’s EDs and UCCs with ILI, as captured by ICD-9 codes. A Support Vector Machine classifier was applied to the set of tweets to remove those unlikely to be related to ILI. Time series of the pooled set of remaining tweets involving any term, of tweets involving individual terms, and of the ICD-9 data were constructed, and temporal cross-correlation between the social media and clinical data was computed. A statistically significant correlation (Spearman ρ = 0.23) between tweets involving the term flu and ED and UCC volume related to ILI 11 days in the future was observed. Tweets involving the terms coughing (Spearman ρ = 0.24) and headache (Spearman ρ = 0.19) individually were also significantly correlated to ILI-related clinical volume four and two days in the future, respectively. In the 2014–2015 cold and flu season, the incidence of local tweets containing the terms flu, coughing, and headache were early indicators of the incidence of ILI-related cases presenting to EDs and UCCs at our children’s hospital.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0182008
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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