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Human Networking Theory Gives Picture of Infectious Disease Spread

There are many vectors by which an infectious disease may spread. Commonly, infectious diseases are spread through human to human interactions. The flu, common cold, and STD’s are examples of diseases that spread from human to human. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) recently published a study regarding how human-networking relates to the spread of disease within a high school (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?org=NSF&cntn_id=118212&preview=false).

The recent NSF and NIH gave black boxes with sensors (motes) to some high school volunteers. The volunteers went about their normal days, but the lab received  signals every 20-seconds to see whether two people with the signal box were close to each other. The lab wanted to create a network of individual connections, with stronger connections being those that were longer. Interestingly, the lab found that conversations are just one primary form of connection between two people. Frequently, human-to-human connections surface in crowded hallways or classrooms where people are forced to be near each other.

Nonetheless, data collected from the motes in the study reveal that triangles do indeed exist and relate to the spread of diseases. The study suggests that if person A contacts B, and if person B contacts C, then it is very likely that person A will also contact C. The triangle theory mentioned in the paper is the same as the Triadic Closure theory discussed in class. The Triadic Closure theory offers important insights as to how disease spreads and who a disease might affect next. If we know that A is sick and has contacted B, and we know that B has contacted C, there is a strong likelihood that A will also contact C and that C will get sick.

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