For those of you rebels out there who refuse to follow the pack and roll up your sleeves to be pricked by the flu vaccine needle or even for the respected few of you who got your shot but are still suffering from flu-related ailments, it appears that you might have been able to steer clear of this sickness by following social media a little closer.

Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter enable you to stay connected and involved in the lives of really whoever you wish, including friends, family and colleagues but did you know these sites can actually be a go-to source in inform the public about increasing epidemics? Developed by researchers at John Hopkins University, there is now a strategy that is touted as being able to quickly browse through tweets in order to enhance the process of gathering and organizing real-time information.

At a time in the United States where most of us are trying to avoid catching the flu like it was the plague, technology companies, universities and healthcare organizations are joining together to create a methodology that can be leveraged in order to provide vital health statistics to offices, hospitals, doctors and public health departments as a way to keep the public informed, as well as to better prepare public health workers, CNN reported today.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already release a weekly influenza update that contains crucial facts ranging from the number of people currently hit by the flu bug in addition to those admitted to the hospital or even passing away because of their symptoms, the information is extremely outdated by the time it reaches the hands of the intended audience.

That is where Twitter is flying in like Superman to the rescue; with tweets almost as soon as they are posted that contain certain keywords being closely analyzed as a way to forecast where and when illnesses like the flu will spread.

The piece added, “Thanks to GPS information for each tweet, the location information gathered from Twitter is more finely detailed than the CDC.”

As social media platforms continue to creep into nearly every aspect of our lives, it is good to know that these mega sites can now not only occupy our free time, but improve our health or maybe just tell us who to steer clear of while they are sick. However, they have been used to track certain sicknesses for a few years now. Back in 2011 in fact, researchers revealed that they could easily outline disease levels for the swine flu outbreak by searching for keywords like flu, vaccine, illness, Tamiflu and pneumonia.

Additionally, Sickweather.com is highlighted as being able to track self reported illnesses using social media. Company officials stated, “Just as Doppler radar scans the skies for indicators of bad weather, Sickweather scans social networks for indicators of illness, allowing you to check for the chance of sickness as easily as you can check for the chance of rain.”

The bottom line here is to play it safe and get the shot because you will probably regret it if you don’t.

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo

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Feeling a Tad Under the Weather? Head to Twitter