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Understanding the role of social interactions in disease transmission

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, March 15, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Social interactions between people drive the spread of many infectious disease, including influenza, measles and tuberculosis. Consequently, they form the basis of many public health interventions, such as quarantine and contact tracing. However, quantitative approaches to understand social mixing and its role in transmission are poorly developed – only recently have efforts been made to quantify interaction patterns at a nationally-representative scale using egocentric sampling (Mossong 2008 PLoS Med). There is a gap between the social interaction data collected and the information required to explain infection incidence patterns. Closing this gap requires an improved understanding of the factors that influence social mixing patterns and the extent to which interaction information is necessary for epidemic forecasting and assessment of public health control (Read 2012 Epidem Infect).

Detailed social interaction information has been collected by Read as part of the FluScape study (NIH/Wellcome) in southern China. Social interaction, travel and demographic information was collected annually from more than 2,000 individuals across a 4-year period (Jiang 2016 Int J Epidem). Antibody titres against a panel of influenza strains was also collected annually from the cohort (Lessler 2012 PLoS Path).

These data represent a unique opportunity to disentangle the social processes driving infection within urban and rural communities, with broad relevance to other populations and the potential to identify novel public health interventions. This PhD will provide a student with the opportunity to lead the development of statistical methods and model fitting for health science, and establish themselves as a leading expert in social interaction and transmission modelling – a specialism increasingly required for national disease control and international eradication programmes.

Project research questions:
Q1. How can spatially-embedded networks of interaction be inferred from egocentric sampled information?
Q2. What demographic characteristics are associated with social interaction patterns?
Q3. What are the social network and demographic determinants of influenza infection?

For Further information about the project contact or

Applications are made by completing an application for PhD Statistics and Epidemiology October 2019 through our online application system. Closing date: midnight 15th March 2019

Funding Notes

Awards are available for UK or EU students only for a maximum of three years full-time study. Awards will cover University Tuition Fees and stipend at Research Council Doctoral Stipend Level (2018-2019: £14,777).

How good is research at Lancaster University in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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