Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Social networks and patterns of disease spread

By Laura Huamán

A study of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak at a Pennsylvania school found that children most likely did not contract the virus by sitting near an infected class mate and that the adults who got sick were most likely not infected by their own children.

Closing the school after the outbreak did not slow down the rate of transmission, mostly because, as researchers suggest, the most common way of disease transmission was through a kid’s network of friends. Researchers collected data on 370 students from 295 households during the epidemic and were later able to trace the spread of the disease from infected person to the next.

Several factors affected transmission rates including class and grade structure. Sitting next to an infected classmate did not seem to increase risk of infection. Since children were more likely to play with other children of the same sex, boys were more likely to infect other boys and girls other girls. Also, only one out of five adults contracted the flu from their own child, which disproves the belief that closing schools will prevent the virus from spreading to households.

Thus, results from this and other similar studies have the potential to impact public health measures, including the decision of whether or not to close schools during an outbreak. Indeed, as it has been previously shown in the literature schools have to be closed very early in the epidemic to be effective in decreasing disease transmission. Social networks should be taken into consideration in prevention strategies and outbreak relief efforts.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/health/research/08flu.html?_r=1&ref=science

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