Connection between networks and the spread of infections
Professor Mirjam Kretzschmar, attached to the Julius Center of the University Medical Center Utrecht, and co-applicant Professor Vincent Buskens, professor in the faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Utrecht, have been awarded a TOP grant by the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw).
They will use the grant, in the amount of €675,000, to study the connection between social and contact networks and the spread of infections.
Professor Mirjam Kretzschmar: 'Globalization increases the risk of disease outbreaks sparked by new pathogens, with all their social as well as economic consequences. This is confirmed by recent outbreaks of infectious diseases like Zika, Ebola and the Mexican flu. Social networks and contact networks highly influence the course of such outbreaks. Not only are the pathogens distributed via these contacts, but the networks influence risk perceptions, for instance, and people's behavior in the event of an outbreak.'
This can change the spread of diseases. Social network contacts can boost or contain risk behavior. Furthermore, pathogens can be passed on via these contacts. Social networks and contact networks therefore figure hugely in the progress of an outbreak.
'By conducting experimental studies and by means of questionnaires distributed via networks we will collect data on contact patterns. We will use this data in mathematical simulation models to get a better understanding of changes of networks and the spread of diseases. This way we hope to help improve network-oriented interventions to combat future outbreaks of infectious diseases,' explains Mirjam Kretzschmar.
The 4-year research project will commence on August 1, 2017, and will be led by the Julius Center of the UMC Utrecht in conjunction with the faculty of Social Sciences. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the University of Maastricht and various Area Health Authorities (GGDs) are also involved.