LONDON - If you are vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea, tweet about it.
Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) is asking Britons to do so as a means of charting the spread of norovirus, the BBC reported on Tuesday (Dec 13).
Since 2013, the FSA has been sieving Twitter data to identify norovirus outbreaks.
Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is a highly contagious illness with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle pains.
It spreads through food and from contact with other people.
Dr Sian Thomas told the BBC that social media was a better source of data than Google searches, as "it's more about the immediacy... what's happening in their lives right now".
FSA social media manager James Baker wrote in a blog post in 2013 that the agency hunts for spikes in key words such as symptoms and related terms, and compares them with the number of lab-confirmed norovirus cases for the same periods.
He said the FSA uses the data to test Twitter's potential for early alerts to outbreaks.
The BBC quoted the FSA as saying that "there's a really good correlation between the number of mentions on Twitter of 'sick' and a range of search terms, with the incidents of illness as defined by laboratory reports".
"Our current estimate is that between 70 to 80 per cent of the time, we are able to accurately predict an increase the next week," added the FSA.