BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Tracking the flu goes hi-tech. A new study uses Twitter to predict outbreaks of the illness. Doctors say it could help hospitals respond more effectively.

Meghan McCorkell has more on how it works.

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That study takes a look at messages on Twitter to predict where the flu is happening–and when it’s at its worst.

The flu season is in full swing. Now researchers have discovered a way to track the spread of the illness–using social media!

“We really think there’s a broad array of things that Twitter can tell us about health,” said Mark Dredze, Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins are able to effectively predict the flu rate in a specific community by analyzing 10 million Tweets a day.

“This is really a groundbreaking result of our ability to do flu tracking in a way that really gives us actionable information,” Dredze said.

Dr. Emmanuel Oke says this flu season has been brutal.

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“This flu season has been very, very busy. We’ve had tons and tons of cases of the flu,” said Oke.

Flu rates have been widespread in Maryland since the beginning of the year. In the first two weeks of March, the Department of Health reported 173 lab cases of the flu across the state.

Hospitals are normally on high alert during flu season but Oke says the Twitter research may help.

“It seems like it’s something that with a little bit of fine tuning might be a good tool to use for the future,” Oke said.

So they’re ready for an influx of patients.

The research is part of a grant program with Twitter.

Flu season usually ends in April.

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