Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Internet Game Provides Breakthrough In Predicting The Spread Of Epidemics, Report Scientists

Date:
January 27, 2006
Source:
University of California - Santa Barbara
Summary:
Using a popular internet game that traces the travels of dollar bills, scientists have unveiled statistical laws of human travel in the United States, and developed a mathematical description that can be used to model the spread of infectious disease in this country. This model is considered a breakthrough in the field.

Each line in this illustration symbolizes the geographic movement of a single dollar bill (or a bill in any denomination) from either Seattle (blue) or New York (yellow) to various destinations in the U.S. The bills traveled for less than a week. Also shown is the population density (blue low, yellow and red high) in the Eastern United States.
Credit: UCSB and the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization

Using a popular internet game that traces the travels of dollar bills, scientists have unveiled statistical laws of human travel in the United States, and developed a mathematical description that can be used to model the spread of infectious disease in this country. This model is considered a breakthrough in the field.

"We were confident that we could learn a lot from the data collected at the www.wheresgeorge.com bill-tracking website, but the results turned out far beyond our expectations," said Lars Hufnagel, a post-doctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-author of an article describing the research in the January 26 issue of the journal Nature.

The worldwide spread of disease -- particularly pandemics with disastrous consequences for human health and economics -- has become a serious threat in the globalized world of intense international trade and travel. The threat of bird flu, the possible emergence of a new human "supervirus," and the potential of a worldwide flu pandemic, make predicting the spread of these diseases more urgent than ever.

Historical pandemics, like the 14th-century plague, moved slowly in waves across geographical areas, because in the Middle Ages people could typically only travel a few kilometers a day. The speed with which epidemics could spread was thus kept in check. It took the plague three years to move up the European continent, south to north, with an average rate of spread of about two kilometers a day.

"But today people move great distances in short time periods, as well as short distances, and they use variable means of transportation," said Hufnagel. "Thus we can expect that future pandemics will spread according to other rules, and more quickly. The rapid worldwide spread of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) has already demonstrated this."

Searching for a way to model the modern spread of disease became the focus of discussions among the co-authors: Theo Geisel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization and professor at the University of Goettingen; Dirk Brockmann, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Plank Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization; and Hufnagel. Following a conference in Montreal, Brockmann met with a friend in Vermont, a cabinetmaker, who showed him the internet game for tracking the movement of dollar bills, located at www.wheresgeorge.com. Participants can register a dollar bill, of any denomination, and monitor its geographic circulation.

The physicists were intrigued: Like viruses, money is transported by people from place to place. They found that the human movements follow what are known as universal scaling laws (from local to regional to long-distance scales). Using the game data, they developed a powerful mathematical theory that describes the observed movements of travelers amazingly well over distances from just a few kilometers to a few thousand. The study represents a major breakthrough for the mathematical modeling of the spread of epidemics.

"Since we can't track people with tracking devices, like we do animals, we needed to get data that provided us with millions of movements of individuals," explained Hufnagel. Scientists are already familiar with similar scaling laws from physical and biological systems. "What is amazing about these particular scaling laws is the fact that they are determined by two universal parameters only. This result surprised us all."

Added Brockmann: "We recognized that the enormous amount of data, as well as the geographical and temporal resolution of bill-tracking, allowed us to draw conclusions about the statistical characteristics of human travel, independent of which means of transportation people use."

Geisel said, "We are optimistic that this study will drastically improve predictions about the geographical spread of epidemics."



Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Santa Barbara. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Santa Barbara. "Internet Game Provides Breakthrough In Predicting The Spread Of Epidemics, Report Scientists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126200435.htm>.
University of California - Santa Barbara. (2006, January 27). Internet Game Provides Breakthrough In Predicting The Spread Of Epidemics, Report Scientists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126200435.htm
University of California - Santa Barbara. "Internet Game Provides Breakthrough In Predicting The Spread Of Epidemics, Report Scientists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126200435.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is blaming doctors for the low number of children being vaccinated for HPV. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Newsy (July 24, 2014) Sheik Umar Khan has treated many of the people infected in the Ebola outbreak, and now he's become one of them. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins