“When did you first learn about the swine flu outbreak?””Have you searched the Internet for additional information on the swine flu outbreak?””If a vaccine for swine flu became available, would you want to be vaccinated?”These questions were posted (as an experiment) on Facebook on Saturday, April 25, just a day or two after concerns of H1N1, or “swine” flu, swept across the country.

If Swine Flu had proved to be more serious than it turned out to be, many people would have turned to the internet for information and advice. The researcher who posted these questions, mathematical biologist Lauren Ancel Meyers, says, “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to gather data on early reactions to the outbreak.” She is trying to figure out how people perceive health risks, so the government can learn how changes in decision-making influence patterns of disease spread.

She thinks people will want to know things like: What if the bug is really infectious and deadly? What if it’s resistant to the drugs we have? What if we have a vaccine that’s effective, but there’s only enough of it to immunize part of the population? What if we close international airports? What if people don’t adhere to the recommended interventions?

Meyers says, “The way it spreads may also reflect the way that information about swine flu spreads through blogs, Facebook or other social networking sites. Part of what we’re trying to understand is what sources of information influence decisions and how quickly they impact behavior.”

We modestly hope that some of the things we write about and talk about (which nobody else does!) will influence public and government behavior (and we have evidence that this does happen). Be part of this important dialogue: come to our Dreamland Festival in June and subscribe today! There’s never been a more important time to be on the right side of these important issues.

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