The impact of illness on social networks: implications for transmission and control of influenza

Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Dec 1;178(11):1655-62. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt196. Epub 2013 Oct 7.


We expect social networks to change as a result of illness, but social contact data are generally collected from healthy persons. Here we quantified the impact of influenza-like illness on social mixing patterns. We analyzed the contact patterns of persons from England measured when they were symptomatic with influenza-like illness during the 2009 A/H1N1pdm influenza epidemic (2009-2010) and again 2 weeks later when they had recovered. Illness was associated with a reduction in the number of social contacts, particularly in settings outside the home, reducing the reproduction number to about one-quarter of the value it would otherwise have taken. We also observed a change in the age distribution of contacts. By comparing the expected age distribution of cases resulting from transmission by (a)symptomatic persons with incidence data, we estimated the contribution of both groups to transmission. Using this, we calculated the fraction of transmission resulting from (a)symptomatic persons, assuming equal duration of infectiousness. We estimated that 66% of transmission was attributable to persons with symptomatic disease (95% confidence interval: 0.23, 1.00). This has important implications for control: Treating symptomatic persons with antiviral agents or encouraging home isolation would be expected to have a major impact on transmission, particularly since the reproduction number for this strain was low.

Keywords: R0 ratio; behavioral change; contact networks; disease transmission; influenza; social interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asymptomatic Infections / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Contact Tracing*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Epidemics
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • Influenza, Human / transmission*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Social Networking*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult