RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — The coronavirus outbreak has killed at least 362 people and infected more than 17,300 globally, as it continues to spread beyond China.
But back here in RTP, researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, in collaboration with researchers from Harvard University, University of Oxford and University of Toronto, are working to understand its spread by tracking it in a novel way — using geolocation data from the social media platform Twitter.
Donal Bisanzio, DVM PhD, Senior Epidemiologist at RTI, and Richard Reithinger, PhD, Vice President of Global Health at RTI, have been studying the virus since cases began to be reported in early January.
According to the data, public health officials should anticipate new cases in new countries to soon be reported based on a correlation between geolocated data from a group of Twitter users from Wuhan and the original location of previously reported cases of the virus.
“We chose to review locations of Twitter users because data of travelers during the inception of the virus had already been studied using flight information, census surveys and mobile phone traffic — these methods do not necessarily allow identification of intermediate or final travel destinations,” said Reithinger, in a statement. “Geolocated data of Twitter users had not yet been studied and by identifying where tweets from this time period originated, we can get a better idea of exactly where these users physically were.”