Social media is mixed blessing in epidemics: WHO

October 13, 2011
A woman wears a protective mask in a street in Hong Kong in 2008. Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites boost public awareness of disease outbreaks but also make it more difficult to separate fact from fiction, world health officials say.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites boost public awareness of disease outbreaks but also make it more difficult to separate fact from fiction, world health officials said Thursday.

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Margaret Chan said the Geneva-based UN body scans websites and online forums in for indications of outbreaks across the world.

Any potential threat is analysed by experts and, if necessary, investigated, she told an international conference in Singapore on improving preparedness to fight .

"I can assure you that with the rise of social media, the background noises for rumours have become much louder and making it so much harder to detect the really important segments," she said.

"But this development also makes it extremely hard for any country to hide a of international concern."

Chan, who was director of health in Hong Kong when a fatal outbreak of (SARS) effectively shut down the territory in 2003, did not elaborate.

China was heavily criticised by the international community during SARS for initially covering up the epidemic, which originated in the south of the country.

The flu-like disease eventually killed more than 800 people worldwide, according to the WHO.

WHO assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said that during the H1N1 that swept the world in 2009/2010, the Internet was rife with rumours about how to build immunity against the disease.

"One of the rumours which started was that if you increase your salt intake it can help," Fukuda told reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore conference.

The agency had to counter the rumour, also using social media, by telling readers that taking too much salt "will be dangerous to your health", he added.

"The availability of information is better than in the past, and I think this is positive," Fukuda said.

"On the other hand, in social media anybody can say anything so it's also possible that you have a lot of miscommunication mixed in with correct information."

Explore further: World prone to food-borne disease outbreaks: WHO

Related Stories

World prone to food-borne disease outbreaks: WHO

October 13, 2011
The world has become more vulnerable to outbreaks of disease caused by contaminated food because of growing global trade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

Recommended for you

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

Energy dense foods may increase cancer risk regardless of obesity status

August 17, 2017
Diet is believed to play a role in cancer risk. Current research shows that an estimated 30% of cancers could be prevented through nutritional modifications. While there is a proven link between obesity and certain types ...

Technology is changing Generation smartphone, and not always for the better

August 16, 2017
It's easy to imagine some graybeard long ago weighing in on how this new generation, with all its fancy wheels, missed out on the benefits of dragging stuff from place to place.

The environmental injustice of beauty

August 16, 2017
Women of color have higher levels of beauty-product-related chemicals in their bodies compared to white women, according to a commentary published today in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The authors say ...

Heavily used pesticide linked to breathing problems in farmworkers' children

August 15, 2017
Elemental sulfur, the most heavily used pesticide in California, may harm the respiratory health of children living near farms that use the pesticide, according to new research led by UC Berkeley.

Taking a stand on staying mobile after 80

August 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—If you want to stay as fit as possible well into your 80s, the answer may be as simple as standing on your own two feet.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.