Network Theory Research May Halt Spread of Potential Epidemic

July 09, 2008 06:00 AM
by Rachel Balik
Computer simulations indicate that immunizing specific individuals within a social network may slow or stop the spread of disease.

30-Second Summary

Humans and computers alike may benefit from new research that suggests epidemics can be prevented by dividing a social network into equal sections and targeting the nodes connecting those sections. Computer simulations indicate that this strategy is more effective than simply targeting the most well-connected nodes. The research could literally be life-saving during a disease outbreak when only limited doses of medication are available.

In the more immediate future, the research may be more helpful in stopping the spread of computer viruses, as it’s easier to map the structure of a portion of the Internet than that of a human social network. Nevertheless, scientists continue to add to their understanding of human social networks—in some cases, without their subjects’ consent.

When an epidemic does occur, doctors may have to make some hard choices about whom to treat. A task force has recommended that if there is a reduced supply of medicine during an epidemic, doctors should not treat the elderly, the severely injured, the chronically diseased and the mentally disabled.

Headline Link: ‘Strategy to Stop a Pandemic’

Background: Understanding social networks and treating epidemics

Related Topic: Tracking social network raises ethical questions


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