Cell-phone traces reveal infection-associated behavioral change

PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
February 09, 2021; vol. 118 no. 6


Population Biology
Open Access
Cell-phone traces reveal infection-associated behavioral change
Ymir Vigfusson, Thorgeir A. Karlsson, Derek Onken, Congzheng Song, Atli F. Einarsson, Nishant Kishore, Rebecca M. Mitchell, Ellen Brooks-Pollock, Gudrun Sigmundsdottir, and Leon Danon
PNAS February 9, 2021 118 (6) e2005241118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2005241118
Infectious disease control critically depends on surveillance and predictive modeling of outbreaks. We argue that routine mobile-phone use can provide a source of infectious disease information via the measurements of behavioral changes in call-detail records (CDRs) collected for billing. In anonymous CDR metadata linked with individual health information from the A(H1N1)pdm09 outbreak in Iceland, we observe that people moved significantly less and placed fewer, but longer, calls in the few days around diagnosis than normal. These results suggest that disease-transmission models should explicitly consider behavior changes during outbreaks and advance mobile-phone traces as a potential universal data source for such efforts.