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Catch the Tweet to Fight the Flu

Photo of Joseph Tien

Primary Investigator:
Joseph Tien - Associate Professor Department of Mathematics - College of Arts and Sciences 
Additional Investigators:  
Eben Kenah - Associate Professor, Biostatistics - College of Public Health
Kathryn Lancaster - Assistant Professor, Epidemiology - College of Public Health
Will Garner - Student Health Services
Matthew Osborne - Graduate Student, Department of Mathematics - College of Arts and Sciences  



The 2017-2018 flu season has been the worst since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic [3]. Acting CDC director Anne Schuchat has called the season “a wake-up call about how severe influenza can be, and why we can never let down our guard” [1]. Undergraduates experience substantial morbidity from influenza [10–12], and are disease transmission pathways to groups that suffer high mortality. Despite influenza vaccination being the CDC recommended prevention strategy, vaccination rates on college campuses are low, ranging anywhere from 8-39% [7]. We have partnered with the OSU Student Health Center (SHC) to conduct a Twitter campaign promoting flu vaccination for OSU students through specialized content and targeted tweet “administration” to maximize message dissemination. Twitter mining tools, participant surveys, and network science techniques will allow us to identify key campaign metrics throughout the 2018-2019 flu season. Results will be disseminated internally to SHC through a tailored report and externally through academic publications. Seasonal influenza is a significant health burden, but social media campaigns can be conducted for minimal cost. Successful campaigns would stem current vaccination disparities among college students and establish healthy behaviors at a young age. This seed grant will lay the groundwork for an expanded project that should be of interest to agencies such as the CDC, NIH, NSF, and local health authorities.