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December 19th, 2012

Twitter, the Flu, and Whooping Cough

By Randy Schwarz

Last week I had the luxury of participating on a Twitter, tweet chat with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)NBC News Chief Science and Medical Correspondent Robert Bazell and others from Mayo Clinic about this year's flu and whooping cough (pertussis) outbreaks, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

According to Centers for Disease Control, as of last week, every state in the nation now has "flu activity." And in some states, that activity is "widespread." So with this year's flu season starting early and "threatening to become one of the worst in almost a decade" according to some reports, the topic of the chat was a timely one.

For those of you not familiar with tweet chats on Twitter, they are pre-arranged chats that happen through the use of tweets which include a predefined hashtag to link those tweets together in a virtual conversation. A hashtag is a keyword preceded by the # symbol used in a tweet. Hashtags help Twitter users quickly find content related to a specific subject/topic through a Twitter search function.

Formal Twitter tweet chats are usually arranged in advance and occur at a specific time. They may include a formal agenda with questions and topics with a specific leader or moderator, or they might involve a free flowing discussion between all participants. A majority of the tweet chats that Mayo Clinic participates in follow the first format mentioned above. Tweet chats are a great way to bring attention to a specific topic or hashtag to a large audience in a short amount of time.

Participating in the chat from Mayo' team were Gregory Poland, M.D., Vaccine Research Group; Priya Sampathkumar, M.D., Infectious Diseases; and Young Juhn, M.D., Pediatric Asthma Epidemiology Research Unit. Using the hashtag #nbcnewshealth, each took time during the chat to answer a variety of questions about protecting ourselves, and our children, from the flu and whooping cough. According to tweet reports, the chatter surrounding the chat included more than 400 folks generating more than 1,000 tweets and had the potential to reach nearly 2 million followers.

Watch a video about the Dec. 12 tweet chat:

There's more, of course. And you can see an transcript of the entire chat here.

If you'd like to learn more about tweet chats and hashtags, you can do so by visiting the Social Media Health Network (SMHN) Twitter curriculum. For information on joining the SMHN, see this post.

Editor's note: Hoyt Finnamore, a Senior Public Affairs Specialist at Mayo Clinic, contributed to this post.

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