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The state of American health, as told by Twitter

If taking to the Internet and posting about your runny nose isn’t the first thing you think to do when you’re sick, you may actually be in the minority. Thanks to the oversharing society we’ve created as a result of social media platforms, researchers have turned to an unlikely source to track health trends and the spread of disease: Twitter.

The folks over at Bay Alarm Medical took a closer look at nearly 500,000 geotagged tweets to determine just what people were saying about being sick, and where in the U.S. they were saying it. When combining this crowdsourced data with information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the team managed to come up with a broad-level overview of sickness across the country.

So what sicknesses are residents in your home state battling? Bay Alarm Medical has the Twitter-based answers.


When it comes to the most common terms associated with being sick, unsurprisingly, “I’m sick” is 34 percent more popular of a term than its next closest competitor (“fever”). So yes, America — when you’re sick, apparently you do want to share your misery with the world. The most common illness discussed is another no-brainer: the “flu” is mentioned nearly 13 times more frequently than the No. 2 illness, the more specific “stomach flu.”


When it comes to our sickest states, it looks like Middle America is more prone to disease (or talking about it on Twitter, at least). Ohio takes the lead, with around 164 tweets regarding illness for every 100,000 residents. And considering that Ohio is ranked 22nd in the country for prevention of infectious disease (struggling with low public health funding and a high rate of obesity, diabetes, and smoking), Twitter may be a pretty accurate reflection of broader issues across the state.

Texas takes second place, and the CDC notes a high percentage of uninsured residents and low immunization rates among children and adolescents. Nevada comes third, and Bay Alarm notes that this state suffers from low per capita public health funding as well as low immunization rates and a high percentage of uninsured residents. Both Louisiana and Michigan (fourth and fifth, respectively) also have issues with low health insurance and immunization rates.


One of the more interesting analyses Bay Alarm performed looks at the difference in tweets between men and women across the country when it comes to illnesses. Unsurprisingly, women tweeted most frequently about having a sick partner or sick child. To their credit, men also tweeted most often about having a sick wife, but the second most popular tweet term was “hepatitis.” Yikes.


Finally, with a belated flu season currently in full swing, Bay Alarm Medical also took a look at the sickest times of the year and days of the week. Normally, sickness-related tweets peak in December and January, then drops precipitously in April before hitting their lowest point in June. As the kids go back to school in September, there’s an uptick in illness, with elementary school children averaging eight to 12 cases of cold or flu per year.


Related: Canada to use social media data to detect mental illness

When it comes to days of the week, surprisingly enough, it’s not Monday that’s the chief culprit, but rather its friend Tuesday. The weekend, however, sees many fewer mentions of being sick (probably because you’re telling yourself to just power through).

For more fascinating social media insights regarding the state of our country’s health as told by Twitter, head over here and check out the full findings.