Professor & Preeminent Scholoar
University of Florida
The interaction of human social behaviour and transmission is an intriguing aspect of the life cycle of respiratory viral infections. Although age-specific mixing patterns are often assumed to be the key drivers of the age-specific heterogeneity in transmission, the association between social contacts and biologically confirmed infection has not previously been tested at the individual level. We administered a questionnaire to participants in a longitudinal cohort survey of influenza in which infection was defined by longitudinal paired serology. Using a variety of statistical approaches, we found overwhelming support for the inclusion of individual age in addition to contact variables when explaining odds of infection: the best model not including age explained only 15.7% of the deviance, whereas the best model with age explained 23.6%. However, within age groups, we did observe an association between contacts, locations and infection: median numbers of contacts (or locations) reported by those infected were higher than those from the uninfected group in every age group other than the youngest. Further, we found some support for the retention of location and contact variables in addition to age in our regression models, with excess odds of infection of approximately 10% per additional 10 contacts or one location. These results suggest that, although the relationship between age and incidence of respiratory infection at the level of the individual is not driven by self-reported social contacts, risk within an age group may be.