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PeerJ. 2016 Oct 27;4:e2630. eCollection 2016.

Social buffering and contact transmission: network connections have beneficial and detrimental effects on Shigella infection risk among captive rhesus macaques.

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Department of Population Health & Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California , Davis , CA , United States.
Department of Population Health & Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, United States; Brain, Mind & Behavior, California National Primate Research Center, University of California, Davis, CA, United States.


In social animals, group living may impact the risk of infectious disease acquisition in two ways. On the one hand, social connectedness puts individuals at greater risk or susceptibility for acquiring enteric pathogens via contact-mediated transmission. Yet conversely, in strongly bonded societies like humans and some nonhuman primates, having close connections and strong social ties of support can also socially buffer individuals against susceptibility or transmissibility of infectious agents. Using social network analyses, we assessed the potentially competing roles of contact-mediated transmission and social buffering on the risk of infection from an enteric bacterial pathogen (Shigella flexneri) among captive groups of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Our results indicate that, within two macaque groups, individuals possessing more direct and especially indirect connections in their grooming and huddling social networks were less susceptible to infection. These results are in sharp contrast to several previous studies that indicate that increased (direct) contact-mediated transmission facilitates infectious disease transmission, including our own findings in a third macaque group in which individuals central in their huddling network and/or which initiated more fights were more likely to be infected. In summary, our findings reveal that an individual's social connections may increase or decrease its chances of acquiring infectious agents. They extend the applicability of the social buffering hypothesis, beyond just stress and immune-function-related health benefits, to the additional health outcome of infectious disease resistance. Finally, we speculate that the circumstances under which social buffering versus contact-mediated transmission may occur could depend on multiple factors, such as living condition, pathogen-specific transmission routes, and/or an overall social context such as a group's social stability.


Contact-mediated transmission; Infectious disease risk; Nonhuman primate; Social buffering; Social networks

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