Do any other microbes provoke similar changes? The leading candidate so far is one of the most common in the world – influenza. Researchers at Binghamton University in New York State, using the ’flu vaccine as a proxy for infection, recorded the behaviour of 36 academic staff two days before, and two days after, getting a jab.
The result was astonishing. Before the vaccination, according to the journal Annals of Epidemiology, they interacted with an average of 54 people a day; afterwards it shot up to 101. Yet the amount of time they actually spent with each person plummeted – from 33 to 2.5 minutes. “Subjects who normally had very limited or simple social lives,” said one researcher, “were suddenly deciding they needed to go out to bars or parties” – the perfect places for a virus to find new hosts.
This may sound terrifying, or at the least unnerving, but there is much that researchers hope to learn from such infections: for example, understanding the way they rewire emotional circuits could provide valuable insights when developing psychiatric drugs. Even zombies, it seems, may have their uses.
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