Swine flu mania has people searching for information on the outbreak with Twitter, on *Google* Maps — and now — even in World of Warcraft. Disease experts and researchers are turning to a 2007 study of a virtual plague that swept the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, Canada.com reports, in order to gain insights into how to increase the effectiveness of tactics like mass quarantines.
Rutgers University assistant professor Nina Fefferman co-authored the study, which appeared in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal; the research focused on how the viral outbreak affected World of Warcraft’s society and economy. Fefferman told Canada.com that entities including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and health researchers from around the world have consulted her about the study because it sheds light on the one variable that most other research (including computer models) hasn’t been able to: human behavior.
For example, during the outbreak, World of Warcraft’s programmers imposed a quarantine, but many players ignored it — and ultimately two thirds of the game’s entire population (six million players at the time) wound up infected. Others tried to flee infected cities, while some players spontaneously developed immunity. “That’s exactly what we worry about in real-world epidemics,” Fefferman told Canada.com. “The little behaviours that we don’t tell people to do or not to do, because we have never seen this happen before.”
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