Can social networks help prevent the flu?

Empty vials of influenza virus vaccine sit on a table at a flu shot clinic in Napa, Calif. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The flu season is just around the corner. Sorry, but it's true. Even though H1N1 isn't creating the panic it did last year, any sensible person wants to do whatever they can to know about any outbreak and avoid it if at all possible.

Some new research may provide assistance in the effort to detect a potential epidemic before it spreads. Dr. Nicholas Christakis from Harvard University and Dr. James Fowler from the University of California at San Diego published a study last week with their findings about how the flu spreads among groups. They found that by closely tracking, well, popular people, they can see a flu coming:

"The 'friendship paradox,' first described in 1991, potentially offers an easy way around this. Simply put, the paradox states that, statistically, the friends of any given individual are likely more popular than the individual herself. Take a random group of people, ask each of them to name one friend, and on average the named friends will rank higher in the social web than the ones who named them.

And just as they come across gossip, trends and good ideas sooner, the people at the center of a social network are exposed to diseases earlier than those at the margins."

We talk to Christakis and Fowler about how these findings might apply to the online social networks that are so prevalent.

Also, we talk about crows who use sticks.

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