Dynamic social networks and the implications for the spread of infectious disease

Jonathan M. Read, Ken T.D. Eames, William Edmunds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the nature of human contact patterns is crucial for predicting the impact of future pandemics and devising effective control measures. However, few studies provide a quantitative description of the aspects of social interactions that are most relevant to disease transmission. Here, we present the results from a detailed diary-based survey of casual (conversational) and close contact (physical) encounters made by a small peer group of 49 adults who recorded 8661 encounters with 3528 different individuals over 14 non-consecutive days. We find that the stability of interactions depends on the intimacy of contact and social context. Casual contact encounters mostly occur in the workplace and are predominantly irregular, while close contact encounters mostly occur at home or in social situations and tend to be more stable. Simulated epidemics of casual contact transmission involve a large number of non-repeated encounters, and the social network is well captured by a random mixing model. However, the stability of the social network should be taken into account for close contact infections. Our findings have implications for the modelling of human epidemics and planning pandemic control policies based on social distancing methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1001-1007
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sep 2008


  • Airborne infection
  • Contact diary
  • Dynamic network
  • Epidemiology
  • Social distance


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