Social network analysis (SNA) and graph theory have been used widely in sociology, psychology, anthropology, biology and medicine. Social network analysis and graph theory provide a conceptual framework to study contact patterns and to identify units of analysis that are frequently or intensely connected within the network. Social network analysis has been used in human epidemiology as a tool to explore the potential transmission of infectious agents such as HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and syphilis. In preventive veterinary medicine, SNA is an approach that offers benefits for exploring the nature and extent of the contacts between animals or farms, which ultimately leads to a better understanding of the potential risk for disease spread in a susceptible population. Social network analysis, however, has been applied only recently in preventive veterinary medicine, therefore the characteristics of the technique and the potential benefits of its use remain unknown for an important section of the international veterinary medicine community. The objectives of this paper were to review the concepts and theoretical aspects underlying the use of SNA and graph theory, with particular emphasis on their application to the study of infectious diseases of animals. The paper includes a review of recent applications of SNA in preventive veterinary medicine and a discussion of the potential uses and limitations of this methodology for the study of animal diseases.
- Contact patterns
- Graph theory
- Preventive veterinary medicine
- Social network analysis