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Study Examines Social Media’s Role in Stopping Spread of Infectious Diseases

November 28, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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A group of researchers from Kansas State University are exploring the effect social media platforms could have on preventing infectious diseases from spreading. The researchers say that a tweet from an influential source could be just as effective as a flu shot.

Faryad Sahneh, Kansas State University doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, said in a release: "During the last decades there has been a huge advancement in medication and vaccination, which has helped save many peoples' lives. But now there also has been a revolution in communication and information technology that we think could be used to develop an even more robust preventative society against infectious diseases."

In addition to his colleague at Kansas State, Sahneh is working on this study with researchers at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, the National Science Foundation, and the MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation. Gary Brase, associate professor of psychology at Kansas State who studies how people make decisions; has collected data on how college-aged kids use social media and what preventative measures they use against viruses. Results indicated they get their information from social media and would be willing to take preventative measures against spreading of infectious diseases.

"However, we also saw that restricting contact with family and friends is something that people are not willing to do," Brase said in the release. "If you think about how diseases are spread, one of the best things you can do is to not interact with other people. But we've seen that this is one thing that people are not very excited about doing."

The researchers have also begun to look at what people and methods would be the most effective or influential at distributing information through social media.  Caterina Scoglio, Kansas State associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said in the release that they’re discussing is whether it would be better to receive recommendations or advice from someone people know and trust personally or from an authority at a place like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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