Health Life

Using social media to map disease

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

People around the world compose and send more than 500 million Tweets every day—and in the middle of a global pandemic, there’s a lot to be learned from those geotags and hashtags. The massive amounts of data created by social media sites like Twitter is helping researchers gain powerful insights into the COVID-19 outbreak.. One of the researchers at the forefront of this work is Georgia State computer scientist Juan M. Banda, who specializes in machine learning and natural language processing.

“Each time we pick up our smartphones and share a Tweet or update our status, we’re providing information about ourselves in the form of data,” says Banda. “All those bits and bytes provide a snapshot of our lives. On a macro scale they can provide insights into society and populations on a number of fronts.”

Banda, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, began a project in March to collect and analyze Twitter data related to COVID-19. To date, his lab has compiled more than 700 million Tweets, which have yielded insights on the spread of misinformation and how human mobility has driven the pandemic’s next move. He has also studied the reported symptoms of so-called long-haulers—patients who continue to suffer from long-term health problems as a result of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Using social media to map disease
Credit: Meg Buscema

The team has made the dataset publicly available as a resource for the global research community, and it’s already been downloaded more than 30,000 times. The data have also been used in several multi-national studies.

Banda says his passion for came during at Montana State University, where he worked on the huge volume of data being generated by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mission. That led to work in astroinformatics and a Ph.D. in computer science. It

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Emotional Support for Young People with Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment can make you feel as if you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. This is especially true for young adults. You may feel shocked, afraid, angry, sad, embarrassed, and lonely as you start treatment. Over the course of your illness you, like many other young people, may also feel hopeful, determined, and optimistic. These are often referred to as the psychosocial effects of cancer treatment. Just as you talk with your treatment team about the physical side effects of cancer treatment, it’s also important to talk about how you are feeling emotionally.

Depending upon your age and cancer type you may be treated at a children’s hospital by a pediatric oncologist, or at a university hospital or medical center by a medical oncologist who treats adults with cancer. A growing number of hospitals, including many NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, offer psychosocial support programs designed for young people with cancer. These programs may include art therapy, music therapy, adventure-based programs, fertility preservation programs, and young adult support groups

Next Steps after a Cancer Diagnosis

As a young person, you’re probably new to the health care system and haven’t yet had to make major health decisions. Use the strategies listed below to gain a sense of control as you begin treatment. 

Learn about your cancer type and treatment options. Being knowledgeable about the type of cancer you have and your treatment options can help you play an active role in your care. There’s a lot of information online and not all of it is relevant to your specific cancer diagnosis or to cancer in young adults. Keep in mind that based on your age and cancer type you may be treated according to a pediatric cancer treatment

Health Life

Physicists develop powerful tool to predict the spread of COVID-19

Credit: Niels Bohr Institute

How extensive should a shutdown be when a new COVID outbreak occurs? Should testing capacity be expanded? And at what pace should tracing occur? Physicists from the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute have developed a new model that can more effectively predict the progression of COVID outbreaks in Denmark, while pointing out how to best manage increasing caseloads. The model enhances the ability to deal with the current pandemic and heightens Denmark’s preparedness for future epidemics.

When the Danish authorities implement COVID-19 shutdowns and precautions, their actions are based on mathematical models that simulate how the virus will progress. Now, Mathias Heltberg, Christian Michelsen, Emil Martiny, Mogens H. Jensen and Troels Petersen of the Niels Bohr Institute have innovated an “agent-based ” that, as a new feature, includes specific characteristics of Denmark’s population, such as the geographic distribution of Danes and their network interactions.

“We have developed a model that pushes the boundaries of how we can model and predict the progression of disease across the country. It is a tool that, among others, the Statens Serum Institute can use to better predict and estimate the progress of this disease across Denmark over time. It will allow us to be better equipped to manage COVID in the future,” says Mathias Heltberg.

Among other things, the model can provide knowledge about how extensive the impact of local shutdowns will be, so as to disturb and affect the fewest number of people possible as a result of precautionary measures. It can also provide answers as to whether testing capacity should be bolstered locally or add clarity about the best approach when infections increase in a specific area—whether, for example, it is better to expand testing capacity and as opposed to instituting shutdowns.

Can predict