Justin Bieber: public health catastrophe?
I noticed a research article published by the Transworld Research Network, and summarized in the current issue of The Atlantic. The authors, Valerie Tweedle and Robert J. Smith?, examined the spread of Bieber fever in North American populations, and conclude that Bieber fever is one of the most infectious diseases known.
The authors treated Bieber Fever like any other infectious disease, producing a number of signs and symptoms including “uncontrollable crying and/or screaming, excessive purchasing of memorabilia, and poor lifestyle choices (e.g. copycat hairstyles).” Furthermore, as the condition moves through a population, it follows predictable kinetics similar to those caused by any other infectious agent where individuals move between susceptible to infected to recovered.
The authors then model Bieber Fever, and consider a constant influx of new pre-teens into the susceptible pool of individuals, which in turn is diminished by a loss of individuals who have become “bored” with Bieber. The transition from susceptible to infected is dependent upon a combination of positive and negative media exposure, as well as direct contact with infected and recovered individuals. By imputing a set of estimated values for all of these, the authors were able to determine an estimated R-0 value, which represents the number of cases that 1 infection can lead to. For instance, for every person infected with pandemic influenza, they are able to infect 2 to 3 additional people for an R-0 value of 2-3. Smallpox was more infectious, and had an R-0 value of between 5 and 7. Our current infectious champion is measles, with an R-0 of about 12, meaning that every person with measles will infect a dozen others during the epidemic. Bieber Fever leaves all of these behind, with an estimated R-0 of around 24, or twice as infectious as measles.
They conclude with a series of alarming predictions. First, Bieber Fever, unlike other infectious diseases, can occur in the absence of any infected individuals. Second, media exposure appears to significantly contribute the severity of the outbreaks, although in the absence of media coverage outbreaks would continue to occur, just in a milder form. They recommend that the only useful strategy to eliminate Bieber Fever is to utilize the tools of the media in the form of negative publicity, perhaps by introducing strategically placed news articles in tabloids in supermarket checkout lines.