This project is led by James Holland Jones

Using social and ecological data to control infectious diseases


Infectious disease continues to be a major source of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The majority of infectious diseases that afflict humans are of zoonotic origin. With the growth of human populations and expansion of human settlement into novel environments, the potential for emerging zoonotic diseases is probably greater than it has ever been. My research investigates the dynamics of infectious disease in both humans and non-human primates, seeks to understand the pathways through which zoonotic diseases spillover into human populations, and attempts to characterize the social and ecological substrates through which infections move through human populations.

The Challenge

Infectious diseases are complex systems made up of many interacting components. Our work seeks to integrate disease dynamics with detailed studies of the ecological context of disease transmission and the social structures that either facilitate of impede transmission. The ultimate goal is to use our understanding of these complex disease-transmission systems to develop effective control and eradication strategies.


Our work provides insights into the ecological, demographic, and social mechanisms behind infectious disease. For example, we have shown that vaccinating people with high centrality in networks characterized by a large degree of community structure is a highly efficient strategy. We have shown how the presence of amplifying hosts can help explain the complex dynamics of plague in prairie dogs. Our team was the first to show that SIV was pathogenic in wild chimpanzees. We have documented pathways for potential transmission of novel primate retroviruses that do not involve bushmeat hunting. Ongoing work suggests how to infer potential transmission networks for emerging zoonotic diseases from individual household survey samples.


Our work has challenged the approach to controlling infectious disease, highlighting the importance of considering species interactions, and considering social structure that goes beyond simply the number of social connections that individuals have.

The Future

The future holds a large comparative study of social contacts, household economics, and patterns of mobility in zoonotic disease spillover hotspots throughout the tropics.

The Team

My lab collaborates with researchers from a wide range of international universities and other institutions. Some include:

  • Tony Goldberg, University of Wisconsin
  • Bill Switzer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Nelson Ting, University of Oregon
  • Colin Chapman, McGill University
  • Mhairi Gibson, University of Bristol
  • Simon Frost, University of Cambridge
  • Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance
  • Tom Smith, UCLA
  • Xiangming Xiao, University of Oklahoma
  • C. Jessica Metcalf, University of Oxford
  • Marcel Salathé, Penn State University
  • Nita Bharti, Stanford University
  • Steve Luby, Stanford University
  • Beatrice Hahn, University of Pennsylvania
  • Anne Pusey, Duke University
  • Paul Sharp, University of Edinburgh
  • Mike Wilcox, University of Minnesota
  • Harish Padmanabha, University of Maryland
  • Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale University

Funders & Sponsors

Work is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (USA), The Fogarty International Center (USA), and the National Science Foundation (USA).