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Social Media To Be Used To Spot Sickness At The 2014 Commonwealth Games

Social media to tackle illness

Sporting events across the globe have been made ever-more popular due to the tremendous impact that social media has had in recent years, and this will not change at the 2014 Commonwealth games in Scotland. Despite continuing the trend of heavy social media use during the event, this time it will be health experts who will take advantage of the online platforms, to be able to spot signs of infection outbreaks.

Glasgow 2014 on social media
Source: teambath.com

They believe that athletes as well as ticket holders will report symptoms online before seeking professional medical attention. The surveillance team at Health Protection Scotland (HPS) will be skimming Twitter every hour during the Games in the hope that anybody who is suffering symptoms that may be contagious speak out online.

The new approach is designed to alert members of the HPS of possible outbreaks of illness before they strike, and even if they fail to reach the illness before it spreads, they can notify services so that they can respond in a more timely fashion.

Illnesses such as vomiting bugs and flu viruses tend to be more common during the winter, and while it is summer in Scotland, it is winter for some of the nations competing, so there is a chance of viruses being carried over on the journeys toward Scotland. In addition, the HPS sees the Games as a high risk due to a large number of people congregating, and this has the potential to spread certain illnesses.

Dr Jim McMenamin who is a consultant epidemiologist for HPS, stated that his team would search one per cent of Twitter feeds posted in Scotland regularly during the Games. He said they would use terms such as vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as common colloquialisms for these specific symptoms.

He said: “If we had a sudden increase in these terms without any linked media coverage and looked at the geographical location [of the Twitter users] and found they were coming from one particular bit of the country, that might serve as an early flag that there is something wrong that needs investigation.”

“It means you can have a quick response time to limit the extent of that problem to the local community.”

Glasgow 2014 on social media
Source: nerv.co.uk
There have also been arrangements put in place so that NHS 24 can report increases in people searching their website or phoning their helpline about correlating problems, and data will be gathered from GP surgeries and A&E departments in the four health board areas hosting events.

On the risks involved during the Games, Dr McMenamin said: “By far and away the biggest risk is from gastrointestinal illness, whether that is norovirus or food poisoning, followed by respiratory illness, whether that is cold or flu or other conditions.”

There has also been concerns expressed about illnesses that do not spread in the UK such as malaria and viral haemorrhagic fevers, and Health Secretary Alex Neil said on that issue: “If someone from Sierra Leone is coming to the games and is carrying Ebola we are well prepared to be able to handle that.”

The seemingly paranoid outlook comes due to the amount of people that will actually be in contact with one another during the Games. In total there will be 71 countries represented at the Games, with 6500 athletes and team officials living in close quarters. There has also been around one million tickets sold for the different events, and an additional 15,000 volunteers will be present to make sure that the event runs smoothly.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Social Media To Be Used To Spot Sickness At The 2014 Commonwealth Games Reviewed by Alex Smith on Tuesday, July 08, 2014 Rating: 5
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