Researchers from Johns Hopkins and George Washington universities found that Twitter could accurately indicate the spread of the flu virus at a local level.

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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Experts hope tweets can serve as research during the flu season.

A new study uses Twitter to track flu outbreaks. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University found that Twitter could accurately indicate the spread of the flu virus at a local level. The study assessed tweets from New York City.

After analyzing billions of tweets, Mark Dredze, assistant research professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins, says they found that predicting flu trends in New York City was just as effective as doing them nationally.

The team isolated flu patient tweets from certain neighborhoods and compared the data to the flu information given by NYC's health department.

"That's critical because decisions about what to do during flu epidemic are largely made at the local level" Dredze said.

The software is developed to scan flu-related tweets and focus on the location of the Twitter users. It determines whether or not someone has the flu or if they simply are fearful of catching it.

Experts hope tracking these Twitter trends may one day help hospitals gauge how many beds to allocate and how much staff they need available. Early alerts may even influence health officials to increase vaccination efforts.

These results were published in an issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

Written by: Brittany Linton, WUSA9

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