Using network visualization to understand how diseases spread

Vax, a free online game, lets you explore how disease spread through a network. It is a fun way to learn about network theory and the importance of vaccines!


Capture from Vax : the red dot is an infected person.

The game has been developed by the Salathé Group. It relies on network visualization to explain how diseases spread. In the game, people are represented by small dots and they are linked when they are in direct physical contact. These dots and relationships form a social network.

Thinking about diseases through the lenses of network visualization allows to understand :

  • how a disease can turn into an epidemic ;
  • how network theory (and vaccines!) can help contain the spread of a virus ;

Data visualization and viruses actually have a long standing relationship. In 1854 Doctor John Snow mapped the occurrences of cholera in a London district. The map showed that the cases were connected to a water pump. A real discovery as scientists thought then that cholera spread by miasma in the air. Doctor John Snow’s data visualization saved lives and fostered medical research.

Next time someone asks you why data visualization matters, tell him about Vax or John Snow!

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