This study compared the geospatial distribution of Ebola tweets from local health departments (LHDs) to online searches about Ebola across the United States during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Between September and November 2014, we collected all tweets sent by 287 LHDs known to be using Twitter. Coordinates for each Ebola tweet were imported into ArcGIS 10.2.2 to display the distribution of tweets. Online searches with the search term “Ebola” were obtained from Google Trends. A Pearson’s correlation test was performed to assess the relationship between online search activity and per capita number of LHD Ebola tweets by state.
Ebola tweets from LHDs were concentrated in cities across the northeast states, including Philadelphia and New York City. In contrast, states with the highest online search queries for Ebola were primarily in the south, particularly Oklahoma and Texas. A weak, negative, non-significant correlation (r=−0.03, P=0.83, 95% CI: −0.30, 0.25) was observed between online search activity and per capita number of LHD Ebola tweets by state.
We recommend that LHDs consider using social media to communicate possible disease outbreaks in a timely manner, and that they consider using online search data to tailor their messages to align with the public health interests of their constituents. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018; 12: 287–290)
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