Predicting the Flu from Instagram

by   Oguzhan Gencoglu, et al.

Conventional surveillance systems for monitoring infectious diseases, such as influenza, face challenges due to shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, remoteness of communities and absence of communication infrastructures. Internet-based approaches for surveillance are appealing logistically as well as economically. Search engine queries and Twitter have been the primarily used data sources in such approaches. The aim of this study is to assess the predictive power of an alternative data source, Instagram. By using 317 weeks of publicly available data from Instagram, we trained several machine learning algorithms to both nowcast and forecast the number of official influenza-like illness incidents in Finland where population-wide official statistics about the weekly incidents are available. In addition to date and hashtag count features of online posts, we were able to utilize also the visual content of the posted images with the help of deep convolutional neural networks. Our best nowcasting model reached a mean absolute error of 11.33 incidents per week and a correlation coefficient of 0.963 on the test data. Forecasting models for predicting 1 week and 2 weeks ahead showed statistical significance as well by reaching correlation coefficients of 0.903 and 0.862, respectively. This study demonstrates how social media and in particular, digital photographs shared in them, can be a valuable source of information for the field of infodemiology.


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