The Hard Facts: You’re Damned If You Do…

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

According to a new study, popular people tend to catch the flu first. When the flu is going around, people at the center of social networks—those who are named as a friend by others—come down with the virus about two weeks earlier than a randomly selected group of people, the study found.” (“Study: Popular People Get Flu First”,

There are approximately one billion reasons why maintaining friendships is good for your health. Don’t believe me? See here, here and here.

But, as author Gretchen Rubin always says, the opposite of a great truth is also true.

And so it is with that in mind that I alert you to this recent study, which basically says if you’ve got a lot of friends, you should expect to be the first to get sick. It makes sense of course—the more popular you are, the more people you interact with and the more germs you are exposed to.

In this particular study, researchers (the very same ones who alerted me to the genetic factors of popularity) tracked the spread of H1N1 flu (the Swine!) at Harvard. But scientists are now considering the implications of these findings on a much grander scale.

“Monitoring the health of…socially connected people could serve as an early warning system for flu epidemics and outbreaks of other infectious diseases,” the article says. After all, getting a two-week head start on a sickness is a mighty large lead. “Identifying a group of central individuals…would provide a simple way of tracking and fighting epidemics, especially in self-contained settings such as college campuses and military bases.”

You know those people who are always under the weather? The amount they call in sick has become an office inside joke? Now I need to pay special attention to who they are, because I always figured it was either the ones with young kids or the slackers, but maybe it’s the social butterflies. If I can watch their health patterns, perhaps I’ll know when to start taking preventative measures.

If we’re weighing the health pros and cons of friendship, I still say you’re better off with a lot of social connections. You don’t need a million BFFs, mind you, but the more effort you put into meeting new people, the healthier you’ll be in the long run.

Until you get so popular you catch the early onset Swine.


Filed under The Hard Facts

4 responses to “The Hard Facts: You’re Damned If You Do…

  1. That’s so funny about the people at work who are always under the weather. Whereas you thought they were lazy slackers, I was always inclined to think that they just had poor immune systems. As a hypochondriac, that is enough to keep my distance. The last laugh is on them if they truly are the coolest people to hang out with outside of the office.

  2. So then what can we assume about the people who brag that they never get sick….?

    • That’s totally true for me. I’ve never had a huge group of friends. And I’d way rather stay home and read or write than go to a party. My immune system is amazing. Interesting to learn why.

  3. Natalie

    I am a social butterfly and have been fortunate. I usually don’t get sick. If I do, it is most likely from an allergy related cause (and this almost happens once every year). Then I enjoy many hot teas until I am feeling better.

    That is funny that you mentioned slackers. I often see those who were too sick to work out enjoying themselves. (Sometimes, though, it is “sickness” induced by out-of-town guests)
    If that happened to me, I would also claim to be ill to spend time with friends who decided to drop in unexpectedly.

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