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Ebola 4 billion tweets on disease were sent in one week

This was revealed by a new study carried out by researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing in New York.

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Statistics have revealed that in one week at the height of the Ebola outbreak, Twitter users shared over 4 billion Ebola-related messages.

This was revealed by a new study carried out by researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing in New York.

In the study, researchers analysed Ebola-related tweets posted over a week in the early stages of the West African outbreak - from July 24th to August 1st 2014.

Also, over 60 million people received tweets about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, revealed that during the week in question, Nigeria reported its first case of Ebola virus disease, Sierra Leone declared a national state of emergency and the first American was diagnosed with the deadly disease.

It further reported that even before official announcements were made by the Nigerian authorities, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were sharing news about Ebola cases via Twitter.

3 days prior to Nigeria’s official announcement about Ebola, Twitter users had already shared around 1,500 tweets about the outbreak, the study further revealed.

Among the first tweets at that time in Nigeria were messages like “#EbolaVirus 1st case discovered Lagos, pls spread the word” and “Guys, #EbolaVirus is in Lagos. Be informed. Be careful.”

The researchers analysed over 42,000 tweets, 16,500 of which were unique and over 25,500 were retweets, during the week covered by the study. Over the week, the spread of tweets multiplied by 63 times to over four billion user messages worldwide.

The researchers analysed the timings, distribution and contents of the tweets, with content analysis covering natural language processing techniques.

This revealed that Twitter users’ main topics of discussions were risk factors, prevention education, disease trends, spread and location of Ebola, and compassion for countries in Africa.

The authors note that the number of Twitter users in African countries like Nigeria has increased exponentially, and it is “clear that Twitter is a useful resource for spreading breaking health news in these West African countries.”

They concluded that mining tweets could be a useful way to conduct public health education, noting that "Twitter can be used to support early warning systems in outbreak surveillance efforts in settings where surveillance systems are not optimal.”

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