Social media used to discuss flu prevention

Evert Nelson | Collegian Faryad Sahneh, graduate student in electrical engineering, sits at his desk in Rathbone Hall Wednesday afternoon. Sahneh has recently been involved in research looking into social media websites, such as Facebook, as a way of communicating about disease awareness.

Evert Nelson, staff writer

With data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointing to an increase in influenza activity which started in November, raising awareness for potential outbreaks or epidemics is going viral.

Research modeling done by Faryad Sahneh, graduate student in electrical engineering, is looking at social media as a new way of reducing and preventing diseases, like influenza, from spreading.

“It’s a way of exchanging information that does not involve any physical contact,” Sahneh said.

A Nov. 27 K-State press release stated that results from surveys about social media and preventative measures against illness involving college students indicate that most of the information students receive is over social media sites, mainly Facebook.

“What we are more focusing on is how this information exchange can promote healthy behaviors,” Sahneh said.

One main behavior Sahneh discussed was flu vaccinations.

Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are being used extensively by people to share information quickly. Sahneh hopes that when someone writes a post about getting their flu shot, more people are likely to get vaccinated as well, since they have a more personal connection to the person who posted.

Sahneh says that with all the advances being made in the medical field, sharing information about these advances is becoming ever more important.

“Social media is very helpful in spreading the word,” said Sakshi Pahwa, graduate student in electrical engineering and a part of the social media research project.

Pahwa is familiar with the modeling Sahneh is doing and feels that it will help significantly in the real world.

Will Jones, freshman in industrial engineering, said he likes the idea of sharing information about diseases through social sites but feels it needs to be done in the right manner.

“Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular websites on the internet,” Jones said, “It just seems to make sense that anything, especially if it’s for the good of the public, be published on the most popular social sites.”

Although Jones feels these social media sites are a great way of spreading information, he would like to see a different method used to make the information less like a spam ad and more of a resource.

The project Sahneh is working on involves other K-State researchers as well. Caterina Scoglio, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been advising Sahneh throughout the research.

Scoglio said that having multiple collaborators from fields such as mathematics, psychology and human ecology helps the whole team look into as many aspects of the research as possible.

The next step in the research process, Scoglio said, is looking over the data for errors and working on interconnected networks of communities working with other communities on spreading information.

For K-State students, spouses, faculty, staff and family members looking for flu vaccines, Lafene Health Center is offering walk in hours to get vaccinated on Dec. 6, 13 and 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $15 for students, $20 for others.