Social Media & Illness Outbreak

Food poisoning is a term used to describe a wide variety of viruses and bacteria typically found in mishandled food. Millions of people in the United States are affected every year by some kind of food poisoning or food borne illness. It is as unpleasant an experience as a person is likely to ever have.

How many of these people rush to their Twitter account to tell their friends?

There was a time when individuals would call each other or have a face-to-face conversation with another – that has stopped – for the most part. Those on Twitter or other sites find out who is doing what, who went where, and who is having company plus all sorts of other information on a daily basis.

Now we may have an opportunity to use social media platforms to report and track foodborne illnesses. Several months ago, in Chicago, volunteers developed and launched an app known as ‘Foodborne Chicago’, which aims to facilitate a connection between the Chicago Department of Public Health and individuals who may have been affected by a foodborne illness.

If you are on Twitter telling someone about getting sick and it may be related to a foodborne illness, the developers will pick up your tweet and encourage you to use an online interface to file a simple food poisoning report.

Once you file your complaint, you will be given a tracking number that helps you and the city health department keep in touch and up-to-date on the status of the complaint.

Since the launch took place in April 2013, more than 70 complaints have been submitted.

One of the developers said that the biggest challenge they have found is getting the local health department’s cooperation. He also said that the technology is “fairly easy to replicate in another city and the costs are pretty low to implement it.”

As in anything new, problems have arisen. They are currently working to improve their app’s rate of correctly reaching out to people who mention a possible foodborne illness over Twitter. There are times when it is hard to filter all the information on Twitter and pull out relevant information regarding illness.

Foodborne Chicago is not the only technology integrating health problems and social media. Apparently, researchers at the University of Rochester developed a somewhat similar technology called nEmesis. This program, through Twitter again, uses data to find people who have reported symptoms of food poisoning after dining at a restaurant.

As of recently, it found 480 reports of possible food poisoning among 3.8 million tweets and identified a correlation between local health department public inspection data and the cases it identified.

A U. S. Food and Drug Administration health communications specialist says that these apps hold promise as early warning systems for possible illnesses and outbreaks; however, many challenges still exist.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of food poisoning, the San Bernardino personal injury attorneys at Welebir Law encourage you to seek medical attention and be treated to safeguard your health.

If you are diagnosed with a foodborne pathogen, we may be able to assist you in protecting your legal rights.


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