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PLoS One. 2016 Apr 21;11(4):e0153690. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153690. eCollection 2016.

Estimates of Social Contact in a Middle School Based on Self-Report and Wireless Sensor Data.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.
Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.
Department of Mathematics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.
Department of Global Migration and Quarantine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, United States of America.


Estimates of contact among children, used for infectious disease transmission models and understanding social patterns, historically rely on self-report logs. Recently, wireless sensor technology has enabled objective measurement of proximal contact and comparison of data from the two methods. These are mostly small-scale studies, and knowledge gaps remain in understanding contact and mixing patterns and also in the advantages and disadvantages of data collection methods. We collected contact data from a middle school, with 7th and 8th grades, for one day using self-report contact logs and wireless sensors. The data were linked for students with unique initials, gender, and grade within the school. This paper presents the results of a comparison of two approaches to characterize school contact networks, wireless proximity sensors and self-report logs. Accounting for incomplete capture and lack of participation, we estimate that "sensor-detectable", proximal contacts longer than 20 seconds during lunch and class-time occurred at 2 fold higher frequency than "self-reportable" talk/touch contacts. Overall, 55% of estimated talk-touch contacts were also sensor-detectable whereas only 15% of estimated sensor-detectable contacts were also talk-touch. Contacts detected by sensors and also in self-report logs had longer mean duration than contacts detected only by sensors (6.3 vs 2.4 minutes). During both lunch and class-time, sensor-detectable contacts demonstrated substantially less gender and grade assortativity than talk-touch contacts. Hallway contacts, which were ascertainable only by proximity sensors, were characterized by extremely high degree and short duration. We conclude that the use of wireless sensors and self-report logs provide complementary insight on in-school mixing patterns and contact frequency.

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