Yelp becomes a tool for tracking food-poisoning outbreaks, aiding health authorities to get a tighter grip on emergency situations.
Not only Yelp, but other social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are screened for potential food-poisoning cases that could turn in a full-blown outbreak. This was the case with the recent Shigella outbreak in San Jose, California, linked to the food served at a seafood restaurant. In parallel with the work of health authorities, Yelp reviewers took to the website to report a number of cases.
With one review posted on October 18th on the Mariscos San Juan restaurant came its closure by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. Following, the reports stated that over 80 customers of the restaurant ended up in hospital, with 12 in the intensive care units. The number Shigella cases has grown to over 90 in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara.
Shigella infection is known as shigellosis. Shigellosis manifests as a diarrheal disease, and is contagious. Yearly, there are 500,000 cases reported across the U.S. Among the symptoms of shigellosis, fainting and severe dehydration are the most common.
How does Yelp help?
As a review website and application, many take to the page to post comments on the experience in one or another restaurant. Granted, some unverified comments may turn out to be purely malicious or driven by any other reason than honestly expressing one’s opinion of the quality of food and services received in said restaurant.
However, other legitimate user reviews are highly useful for health authorities looking to handle food-poisoning outbreaks in a more efficient manner. Currently, epidemiologists working with the Shigella outbreak in Santa Clara county aren’t using Yelp to prop their investigation.
Yet, previous research identified some cases where Yelp could have been an early warning system for food-poisoning outbreaks. Moreover, it may bring in the limelight patients who have fallen ill due to food-borne bacterial infections, but did not report to hospitals.
Yelp becomes a tool for tracking food-poisoning outbreaks
Epidemiologists in New York would have had a handful with the number of cases unraveled by a joint study with the Columbia University. Together, the team screened Yelp reviews from 2012 to 2013.
They revealed 900 cases that passed unnoticed by health authorities and represented a trove of data for epidemiologists looking into food-poisoning outbreaks. Overall, three food-poisoning outbreaks were related to restaurants and 16 illnesses as a result of the study.
In Boston, a team of researchers with the Boston Children’s Hospital screened almost 6,000 Yelp reviews targeting the food businesses in the vicinity of 29 colleges spanning 15 states.
Taken together, the Yelp reviews that indicated the presence of food-poisoning cases coincided with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there are drawbacks to screening social media and review websites to identify and track food-borne illness outbreaks, it’s increasingly useful that Yelp becomes a tool for tracking food-poisoning outbreaks.
Photo Credits: Flickr
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