CDC using Twitter for swine flu information

The Centers for Disease Control is using Twitter to send out updates about swine flu including news reports and links to consumer resources.

Just in case you're not getting enough up-to-the-minute news about swine flu, you can log in to Twitter to get updates from the government's Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC is using Twitter to spread the word on how not to spread or get swine flu. The CDC has several Twitter accounts including @CDCemergency, which is posting new recommendations, bulletins on confirmed cases, and information on antiviral drugs and other ways to deal with or prevent the disease.

The Associated Press reports that there have been more than 1,600 reported cases and the number of suspected deaths has reached 149 in Mexico. At 1 p.m. Eastern Monday, the CDC reported 40 confirmed cases in the United States: California (7), Kansas (2), New York City (28), Ohio (1), and Texas (2). One person has been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths.

Another Twitter account, @CDC-eHealth, is updated less often but has some good advice including this link to a CDC site where you can send family and friends a "handwashing eCard."

You can also search Twitter for "swine flu" where you'll find a lot of tweets, but use caution before taking advice from sources that you have no particular reason to trust.

And there is indeed plenty of discussion about the disease. Nielsen Online released data that shows that the volume of conversations about swine flu "have already exceeded nearly 10 to 1 those surrounding the salmonella and peanut butter scares from earlier this winter."

Of course all general news organizations have information including our own CBSNews.com which has an excellent and relatively reassuring video from "CBS Evening News" M.D. Dr. John LaPook. (CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.)

WebMD.com has a swine flu FAQ and as Don Reisinger pointed out in a Webware post about online resources for tracking swine flu, Google has a map that tracks locations of cases around the world.

From my own experience, using the Web to get health information can be quite useful but it can also lead to unnecessary panic. It's a great way to get general information, prevention tips, and information on how to handle a known condition, but be cautious when using it to try to diagnose yourself. When you do online research about symptoms, you are likely to find a wide variation of causes from the benign to deadly. Yes, a cough can be a symptom of lung cancer, but it can also be from a common cold. If I do suspect something is wrong, I usually go to a doctor, not a URL. If you do go online for health information be sure it's a reputable site like WebMD, one of the state or federal government sites (including healthfinder.gov), or a site run by a respected health care provider.

Updated to include link to number of cases and links to Nielsen Online data.

About the author

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.

 

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