Is Our Health Just a Numbers Game?

As we start 2011 I have been wondering if our health had just become a numbers game. Here’s why:

Did you know that in the UK there are nearly a 100,000 people who are at risk of heart attacks because of failures to screen them for an inherited condition that causes extremely high cholesterol? According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, relatives of patients who have very high cholesterol caused by a genetic condition should also be screened for the disease under guidance. However, the Royal College of Physicians said this is not routinely happening. It is estimated that every day one person who has the condition – called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – but who has not been diagnosed, has a heart attack. The condition will cause a heart attack in half of men by the time they are just 55 along with one third of women by the time they reach the age of 60. It is thought that that currently, 2.5 m of the UK’s population lives with heart disease.

Then we have the UK’s flu outbreak which has been reported to become a ‘children’s epidemic’ as new figures show that the number of under-fives being brought into doctors’ surgeries with the illness doubled over the recent Christmas period. Now with schools reopen, experts believe the spread of the virus will escalate. The figures, collated by the research centre of the Royal College of General Practitioners, show there is no sign of a letup in the days ahead and many hospitals are on ‘black alert’ – cancelling non-urgent operations and running short of available intensive care beds. Though, the key message here is that it is not too late to get the vaccination. Parents who have a child with asthma or diabetes or chest disease must really take up this vaccination.

Moving on to the swine flu pandemic, of 2009 I am going to connect it with social media! A recent on-line survey showed a link between health and Twitter; this on-line analysis published by PLoS, which is an interactive open access journal for all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research looked at Twitter traffic during 2009’s swine flu pandemic. It compared the volume of tweets about the swine flu and the news coverage. After reviewing two million tweets between May and December 2009, the study showed some interesting finding, some of which I have shared below:

  • News websites were the most popular tweeted info source, providing 23% of the content;
  • Government sites were tweeted 1.5% of the time;
  • 4.5% of tweets were classified as ‘misinformation’; and
  • The one I really liked was – one of the sharpest increases in Twitter traffic was the announcement that Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint had swine flu!

If people tweet about strange health happening around them and link them with hashtags, maybe   we could start to use social media as an epidemiological tool? It could serve as an early warning trigger to health officials.  What do you think; could Twitter become a meaningful way of tracking health issues?

John Crisford
Tel: 01277 822922
Twitter: @SherwoodHealth


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