Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group

FluPhone Project: Understanding Spread of Infectious Disease and Behavioural Responses  


Project FluPhone2












How people behave, interact and travel during an epidemic could limit or exacerbate their risk of infection. In the SARS epidemic of 2003, there is evidence to suggest that people changed the amount of time spent outside and their hygiene practises in response to the perceived risk of infection. A recent study suggests that public transport usage may decline in the event of an influenza pandemic and that people may stay at home rather than go into work and risk infection. If such precautionary behaviour were to be adopted by a large number of individuals the economic implications may be profound. The cost to the UK economy through such precautionary actions may be greater than the cost incurred through actual illness, and there is little evidence that some of the actions that people may take will actually lower their risk of infection. To ensure that plans to cope with major epidemics and public information messages are appropriate, there is, therefore, an urgent need to anticipate how people are likely to change their behaviour in the event of an outbreak.


The FluPhone2 Project carries out the first trial of FluPhone project (2009-2010 - ESRC: RES-355-25-0019-2009-2010), which aimed to bring together epidemiologists, psychologists, economists and computer scientists from seven academic institutions and governmental agencies, with the goal of developing novel and innovative methods with which to measure, understand and predict how individuals change their social behaviour in response to infectious disease. Individuals may change their behaviour for several reasons: through being ill themselves, having to care for others who are ill, or through changing their normal habits in the belief it will prevent or minimise their risk of infection.

The presentation slides of the fluPhone data collection can be found here.

The FluPhone2 project is being conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

 FluPhone Study

See FluPhone Study web page for the trial of FluPhone experiment.

Could you be a super-spreader?

We conducted an experiment using mobile phones to find out how often people come into contact with each other. All necessary information for the participants can be found in FluPhone study web page  This information will help scientists and medical researchers understand how close-contact infections, such as swine ‘flu, spread between different people. This study aims at collecting the information on social encounters based in Cambridge, UK. It used mobile phones to anonymously record how often people encounter each other, and will use this information to understand more about how fast infections, like swine flu, can spread amongst different people in Cambridge. The study was voluntary and asks consenting participants to download a free application to their mobile phone. This software, specially developed by the Computing Laboratory at Cambridge University, recorded (anonymously) how often participants are in close proximity to each other, and relayed the findings directly and securely to the research team.

All data provided by participants or collected by their mobile phones was only be used for the purposes of this research, was stored securely and was not made available to anyone outside of the research team, in accordance with the Data Protection Act. This study has been approved by the Cambridge Psychological Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cambridge.

The phone software also permited the researchers to conduct real-time simulated epidemics of ‘virtual’ diseases, which only jump between participants’ phones when they encounter each other – these virtual diseases would not harm participants’ phones.

Participants were able to log-on to the study website and see an estimate of how many people they have encountered recently and compare their social activity to other participants. Volunteers were also able to track the progress of the virtual diseases around Cambridge and see which their phone encounters.

Participants were asked to register to the FluPhone Study, however, if a partitipant wanted to try the FluPhone application without registration, he/she could contact us.

FluPhone study schedule:

  • Pilot study in the Computer Laboratory (members of CL plus their families and friends) - April 21 - May 15, 2010.
  • Study in the University of Cambridge - May 10 - June 30, 2010.

For the study in the university, we advertised FluPhone Study via the following channels. Targeting participants include university members, their families, colleagues, friends, and people who work or live in Cambridge.

  • Secretary of department - distribution for the members in the department
  • Secretary of publicity in college - distribution for the members on the college
  • Bulletin boards (e.g. CUSU bulletin, Graduate Union)
  • Cambridge University based societies (e.g. CUCATS)
  • Facebook and Twitter (e.g. Cambridge graduate students, Alumni)

Participants must be over 12 years old (under 16s require parental/carer consent), have the use of a compatible mobile phone, and permission from the owner and bill-payer of the phone to participate.

 FluPhone Software

The FluPhone is simple client-server software consisting of a mobile phone application in the phone and a receiver as a PHP script in the web server. The mobile phone application is written in Java (J2ME), which collects proximity devices data by Bluetooth, GPS coordination data, and self-reporting flu symptom. The collected data is sent via GPRS/3G to the server. Also the user can upload the data via web interface.

  1. FluPhone Application: The FluPhone application requires J2ME MIDP 2.0, and CDCL 1.1 with JSR-82. To get location data, the phone has to have a GPS module. If writing to a file is supported, the application will be able to dump the database files, which could be uploaded via FluPhone web. Running application is fairly intuitive: report the symptoms if any, allow the application to send data.

    How the application looks like can be found at
  2. FluPhone GPRS/3G receiver: he GPRS/3G receiver is implemented as a PhP script that takes each packet from the phones running the sender version of the application and writes it to a file. There is also daemon job archiving the data in MS-SQL database.

    Communication between the mobile application and the server is based on https. The SSL certificate issued by GlobalSign is used for the FluPhone web server.

 FluPhone Software Specification

Documentation of the internal specification of FluPhone:

Draft version (based on 2010/06/24): FluPhone Internal Specification. Some functions have been changed since March. However, the basic system design should be current.

Virtual Disease:

 FluPhone Source Code

If you want to access to the source code of the fluphone, please contact us.

 Related Talks and Publications

  • E. Yoneki Data Collection using Short-Range Radio for Modelling Dynamic Human Contact Networks. LSHTM workshop 2011 (PDF version).


  • PhD student (TBD)

  • Eiko Yoneki

Contact Email

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