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China study improves understanding of disease spread

published on May 1 2014
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ChinaStreet-1wDr Jonathan Read: “Southern China is a hotbed for new diseases”

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown how the travel and socialisation patterns of people in Southern China can give greater insight into how new diseases such as bird flu may spread between populations.

Southern China is one of the most important regions of the planet for the development and spread of new diseases in humans.  In recent years a combination of high population density, frequent contact between humans and animals and the developed transport links in the region have given rise to diseases such as SARS and avian flu, and their rapid spread.

Contact and travel

To find out more about how these diseases can spread among communities, researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health surveyed 1,821 people in Guangdong to find out how many people they came into contact with each day and how far they travelled.

“The next flu pandemic may well come from Asia so the more we know now about how flu and other infections may spread in this region, the better prepared we are to limit them and save lives”
Epidemiologist, Dr Jonathan Read led the research. He said: “Southern China is a hotbed for new diseases, but the way in which people move around and interact in the area is poorly understood.

“This makes it very difficult to make accurate predictions as to how fast and in which directions they will spread.”

The surveys found that most people met around ten others each day and spent between five and ten hours a day with other people.  People from rural areas were more likely to travel further to meet people and younger people were more likely to have more interaction with others.

The information gathered in the surveys will be used to add key data to mathematical models of disease spread, giving more detail and accuracy to patterns in this highly important region.

Mathematical models

Dr Read concluded: “The next flu pandemic may well come from Asia so the more we know now about how flu and other infections may spread in this region, the better prepared we are to limit them and save lives.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, Hong Kong University, Imperial College and Guangzhou Hospital.  It was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society B’.

Follow the Institute of Infection and Global Health on Twitter or find out more about degrees in epidemiology on the University’s Study pages.

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