Can Social Networks Serve as Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks?

Sep 27, 2010, 1:36 AM, Posted by

 Harvard researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler believe they can.

In their latest paper on the power of social networks on predictors of health, published last week in the scientific journal PLoS One, Christakis and Fowler looked at how the flu spread through two different groups of undergrad students – one selected at random and the other named as friends by the randomly selected group. They found that it developed much earlier – about two weeks – in the friend group.

According to researchers, this means that public health officials could potentially use friend monitoring as an early-detections system for disease. Because the friend system pinpoints signs of an epidemic before it peaks in the general population, flu trends could be identified faster than methods now used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more about this latest paper, funded in part by Pioneer, in The New York Times, or watch the short video below.  



This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.