Outbreaks monitored with Facebook

The web and social networking has gotten a bad rep lately from research proving it ups anxiety, likelihood of obesity and the latest privacy battle between Facebook executives and users. However social scientists have found a novel way to use social networking to map contagious outbreaks.

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, an internist, social scientist and professor of medical sociology, medicine, and sociology at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and James H. Fowler, a political scientist specializing in social networks and professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, collaborated on a research project that analyzed "friends" to determine flu outbreaks (both seasonal and swine) at Harvard in 2009.

The study according to the May 14 print edition of The Economist, a global current events magazine, has been submitted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for publication . It is currently available for download via arVix.org, a research online database linked to Cornell University Library.

The researchers monitored 744 Harvard students by identifying random individuals and selecting their three most popular friends and those "most central" to analyze the spread of the flu. The novel approach showed promising evidence that social networks could be a valuable tool for keep communities healthy and preventing large outbreaks.

Fowler wrote, "Based on clinical diagnoses, the progression of the epidemic in the friend group occurred 14.7 days (95% C.I. 11.7-17.6) in advance of the randomly chosen group (i.e., the population as a whole). The friend group also showed a significant lead time (p<0.05) on day 16 of the epidemic, a full 46 days before the peak in daily incidence in the population as a whole."

He continued, "This sensor method could provide significant additional time to react to epidemics in small or large populations under surveillance. Moreover, the method could in principle be generalized to other biological, psychological, informational, or behavioral contagions that spread in networks."

Maybe you should start asking friends to provide health status updates.

To access the abstract, "Social Network Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks" visit: http://arxiv.org/abs/1004.4792

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Apprentice

    £15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £20,000 - £60,000

    £20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence