Virus research goes viral with Facebook app

Videos or memes that gain wide popularity through social networking sites are said to have gone viral, and now researchers are using a Facebook app to see how the same principle applies to actual viruses, ScienceDaily reports.

The app PiggyDemic, developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University, allows Facebook users to "infect" themselves or others (virtually) with a "virus." This will allow the app's developers, Dr. Gal Almogy and Professor Nir Ben-Tal, to collect data on the way the "virus" spreads and mutates, and how many people it ultimately "infects."

The researchers are hoping this method of tracking a fictional virus throughout a population will be more effective than the traditional method, which assumes that viruses and diseases spread evenly throughout a population.

Online tools have proved useful in tracking real viruses, as well. Todd Park, chief technology officer of the Health and Human Services Department, has talked about how keeping track of Google searches provided more up-to-date information than traditional reporting methods on how and where the 2009 flu was spreading.

And Google maintains a Flu Trends website, which depicts the spread of flu around the world based on search terms.


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