All of this discussion stems from a spell called Corrupted Blood that infects players fighting Hakkar in Zul'Gurub. In some cases players took the disease back with them to Ironforge and Ogrimmar, and death spread amongst the populace of those cities. Dan argues against the BBC claim that we can study diseases within online games to find out how real epidemics would spread.
I see his point really. First, there is the nature of the spell itself, created as a game mechanic, not as a virus with incubation periods and deteriorating illnesses that ultimately lead to a victim's demise. There is nothing within WoW to show the ultimate toll on a population when they must live with an illness for long periods of time, where they cannot log out and go watch a movie instead. Once Corrupted Blood had spread it was over with, there was no need for quarantine, for the development of an antivirus, of really any of those elements that make dealing with a large scale deadly disease so horrific.
The reactions of the players to the debuff, their running around to either help or hurt their fellow players, is really an illustration of social behavior in online games, says Hunter. If we study this at all, we should do it from the context of social science rather than epidemiology. In order to truly study viruses in an online virtual world, we would need to create such a world specifically for that purpose a massively multiplayer online roleplaying scenario in which few would participate because there is nothing fun about disease. In such a scenario, players would not be able to simply remove themselves from the game in order to avoid the plague, otherwise there could be no real research into the behavior of the virus.
I see the value in such a project, and would gladly participate, but I can't foresee anyone with the research funding substantial enough to accomplish this spending it on what would be essentially termed a game. Unless of course a company like Blizzard donates their resources to the creation of such a project.