Using the map tool, the 150 places with the most health tweets included Las Vegas (202 tweets), Nevada (917 tweets), and Paradise NV (138 tweets). Since this data is based on geolocation -- using computers or cell phones to determine roughly where someone is -- it includes the many visitors to our area (and there is a major music festival in town right now). The entire table is downloadable for further analysis. You can easily change the order of the lists based on a disease; for example, sort by STDs to learn that right now, Miami and Fort Lauderdale are the top towns for tweets about sexually transmitted diseases.
In fact, a little research shows that 20% of the tweets tracked were about STDs. A few thousand people have tweeted about them every day for the last several weeks! More of these tweets were made in the afternoon or evening than in the morning -- probably an artifact of sleep/wake cycles and work/school schedules. Clearly, STDs are an ongoing problem among Twitter users who tweet about medical conditions. Rather than indicating a possible outbreak, this indicates a need for more information about safe sex.
It is also possible to drill down deeper and find out, for example, there have been more tweets about gonorrhea in the last few days. If I tracked this data regularly, I would be able to identify whether this were an abnormal spike in activity. I would probably also develop a feel for seasonality of disorders that I track.
Theoretically, you can also map out where people are talking about a specific illness. Unfortunately, this functionality was not working correctly for me. I did not have a sense for whether the problem was on my end or at the server level.
Obviously, this tool tells us two things. First, a surprising number of people are more than willing to tell their friends and followers about their medical issues in a semi-public forum. These same people would be rightly outraged if a medical professional posted the exact same information; we must be aware of the necessary double standard. Second, in the hands of a skilled epidemiologist, this information can help communities identify trending health problems and allocate necessary resources. There is also one important limitation to remember: only active Twitter users are providing the data: "Twitter users represent a cross-section of the population that doesn't include all locations, socio-economic classes, and age groups. Two of the largest demographic groups that are underrepresented in Twitter are among the most likely to be affected by flu outbreaks: children and the elderly." In short, this very cool information is a supplement to data from organizations like the CDC, not a replacement.
APA versions of links cited above:
Fudin, S. (2013, May 1). Tracking real-time health with Twitter data serves as an early warning system. Retrieved September 26, 2015, from https://opensource.com/health/13/5/twitter-track-health
2015 Life is Beautiful Festival - Downtown Las Vegas. (2015). Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://lifeisbeautiful.com/
McCann, E. (Ed.). (2012, September 14). Twitter app takes on public health. Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/twitter-app-takes-disease-outbreaks
Norris, B., Boicey, C., & Silverberg, M. (2012, June 3). MappyHealth - Monitoring disease trends, 140 characters at a time -#N... Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.slideshare.net/marksskram/mappyhealt
Terry, K. (2012, September 12). Twitter App Tracks Illness Outbreaks - InformationWeek. Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/clinical-information-systems/twitter-app-tracks-illness-outbreaks/d/d-id/1106365?
Welcome! We are tracking disease trends, 140 characters at a time. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://nowtrending.hhs.gov/
(2015, August 3). Retrieved September 26, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geolocation
Velotta, R. (2015, September 24). Street closures for Life is Beautiful begin in downtown Vegas. Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/music/street-closures-life-beautiful-begin-downtown-vegas