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Health Misinformation Can Spread Fast Via Social Networks

Some Twitter status updates that share health information include misinformation on antibiotics

MONDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Misunderstandings regarding proper use of antibiotics could potentially be widely disseminated through social networks such as Twitter, according to a study in the April issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

Daniel Scanfeld, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues randomly selected 1,000 Twitter status updates from a complete list of 52,153 updates mentioning antibiotics between March 13, 2009, and July 31, 2009. In an effort to evaluate potential misunderstanding and misuse of antibiotics, the updates were mined for certain word combinations, including "cold + antibiotic(s)," "extra + antibiotic(s)," "leftover + antibiotic(s)," "flu + antibiotic(s)," and "share + antibiotic(s)."

The researchers categorized 971 of the updates into 11 groups, with general use the most common (289 updates), followed by advice/information (157), side effects/negative reactions (113), diagnosis (102), resistance (92), and misunderstanding and/or misuse (55). They identified cases of misunderstanding or abuse for the combinations "flu + antibiotic(s)" (345 updates), "cold + antibiotic(s)" (302), "leftover + antibiotic(s)" (23), "share + antibiotic(s)" (10), and "extra + antibiotic(s)" (7). The "flu + antibiotic(s)" combination reached 172,571 followers, and the "cold + antibiotic(s)" combination reached 850,375 followers.

"Social media sites offer means of health information sharing. Further study is warranted to explore how such networks may provide a venue to identify misuse or misunderstanding of antibiotics, promote positive behavior change, disseminate valid information, and explore how such tools can be used to gather real-time health data," the authors conclude.

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