“Flu-dunnit” for WNYC

Last fall, a bunch of us got sick at the same time, and it seemed likely that the virus spread at the workplace. The question came up: who came to work sick? Or to put it another way: who was to blame for this office outbreak?

 

To find out, we partnered with NYU Tandon School of Engineering Assistant Professor, Rumi Chunara, who runs the goVIRAL research project, and Jeffrey Shaman, an expert in flu forecasting at Columbia University. His group is currently working on an extensive respiratory virus sampling project in New York entitled “The Virome of Manhattan” with the American Museum of Natural History.

They helped us design a project looking at how respiratory illnesses spread in our workplace community. Once a week for ten weeks we swabbed our noses and sent the samples to a lab at Columbia where they could determine (if we were sick) what kind of respiratory infection we had caught.

We also filled in bi-weekly symptom reports. Some of the questions were benign: do you have a fever? Others were more accusatory: who do you think got you sick?

The entire experiment was a whodunnit. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was a flu-dunnit. But sometimes messing with what usually lies below the surface can have unexpected side effects. Flu-dunnit changed our office dynamic. Accusations started to fly, as our scientist sleuths discovered who were the victims — and who was the perpetrator.

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