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Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Dec 1;174(11):1246-55. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr251. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Social mixing patterns within a South African township community: implications for respiratory disease transmission and control.

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Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa.


A prospective survey of social mixing patterns relevant to respiratory disease transmission by large droplets (e.g., influenza) or small droplet nuclei (e.g., tuberculosis) was performed in a South African township in 2010. A total of 571 randomly selected participants recorded the numbers, times, and locations of close contacts (physical/nonphysical) and indoor casual contacts met daily. The median number of physical contacts was 12 (interquartile range (IQR), 7-18), the median number of close contacts was 20 (IQR, 13-29), and the total number of indoor contacts was 30 (IQR, 12-54). Physical and close contacts were most frequent and age-associative in youths aged 5-19 years. Numbers of close contacts were 40% higher than in corresponding populations in industrialized countries (P < 0.001). This may put township communities at higher risk for epidemics of acute respiratory illnesses. Simulations of an acute influenza epidemic predominantly involved adolescents and young adults, indicating that control strategies should be directed toward these age groups. Of all contacts, 86.2% occurred indoors with potential exposure to respiratory droplet nuclei, of which 27.2%, 20.1%, 20.0%, and 8.0% were in transport, own household, crèche/school, and work locations, respectively. Indoor contact time was long in households and short during transport. High numbers of indoor contacts and intergenerational mixing in households and transport may contribute to exceptionally high rates of tuberculosis transmission reported in the community.

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