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HHS Contest Aims to Use Twitter for Health Trends Tracking

March 20, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a challenge to developers to design web-based applications that use Twitter to track health trends in real time. The hope is health officials will use knowledge of these trends to figure out emerging health issues and a warning of public health emergencies in a community.

The challenge came through HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The contest, called Now Trending - #Health in My Community, will run online through June 1, 2012.

 “When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service, said in a statement. “Based on that 2009 pandemic experience, local health officials asked for our help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring useful as part of the surveillance systems in place now to identify new diseases early.”

HHS will look for an application that is innovative, scalable, dynamic, and user-friendly. The app must use open-source Twitter data to deliver a list automatically of the top five trending illnesses over a 24-hour period in a specified geographic region and send the data to state and local health agencies.

The person or team developing the best application will receive $21,000 from ASPR as well as a $1,000 travel stipend to attend an event announcing the winner.

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