Journal article

Complex social contagion makes networks more vulnerable to disease outbreaks

Social network analysis is now widely used to investigate the dynamics of infectious disease spread. Vaccination dramatically disrupts disease transmission on a contact network, and indeed, high vaccination rates can potentially halt disease transmission altogether. Here, we build on mounting evidence that health behaviors - such as vaccination, and refusal thereof - can spread across social networks through a process of complex contagion that requires social reinforcement. Using network simulations that model health behavior and infectious disease spread, we find that under otherwise identical conditions, the process by which the health behavior spreads has a very strong effect on disease outbreak dynamics. This dynamic variability results from differences in the topology within susceptible communities that arise during the health behavior spreading process, which in turn depends on the topology of the overall social network. Our findings point to the importance of health behavior spread in predicting and controlling disease outbreaks.

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