August 23, 2007

A VIRTUAL EPIDEMIC mirrors the real world:

An outbreak of a deadly disease in a virtual world can offer insights into real life epidemics, scientists suggest.

The “corrupted blood” disease spread rapidly within the popular online World of Warcraft game, killing off thousands of players in an uncontrolled plague.

The infection raged, wreaking social chaos, despite quarantine measures.

The experience provides essential clues to how people behave in such crises, Lancet Infectious Diseases reports.

In the game, there was a real diversity of response from the players to the threat of infection, similar to those seen in real life. Some acted selflessly, rushing to the aid of other characters even though that meant they risked infection themselves.

Others fled infected cities in an attempt to save themselves.

And some who were sick made it their mission to deliberately infect others.

Researcher Professor Nina Fefferman, from Tufts University School of Medicine, said: “Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour.

“The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously, even though it was only a game.”

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