Monday, January 24, 2011

Wireless Flu Tracking at Stanford University

Stanford researchers ran a study using wireless technology to track exposure risk among teachers and students during the height of flu season. The wireless devices tracked over 760,000 incidents where two people were within 10 feet of each other. The researchers tested the hypothesis that those closer to the “center” of the social network were more likely to be infected and to infect. They found that the position of a subject within a social network did not matter when there were so many opportunities for transmission. We are then led to believe that, with a disease like influenza, a random vaccination strategy with sufficient critical mass makes the most sense versus vaccination of those at the "center" of a social network.

This seems to fly in the face of research presented in Nicholas Christakis’ Connected on a similar study at Harvard University demonstrating that social network position does make a difference. Even if social network position and a social network-based vaccination strategy do not make sense with flu, I do believe it can make sense for other infectious diseases. There’s substantial evidence indicating the existence of super-spreaders for various diseases, including SARS.

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