Scientists examine human behavior and the threat of disease

Jun 02, 2009

As swine flu spread from Mexico to Texas and then fanned out farther in the United States, Americans began to alter their behavior. Families kept children home from school, postponed trips to the mall, and stayed home instead of eating out. In so doing, the American population may have inadvertently altered the behavior of the pathogen itself.

How human behavior changes the spread of , and how the spread of disease simultaneously changes human behavior, will be among the topics discussed by scientists at a meeting at the National Institute for Biological and Mathematical Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, June 7-9.

Ecologists, epidemiologists, economists, and mathematicians will comprise a NIMBioS Working Group to tackle the topic, "Synthesizing and Predicting Infectious Disease While Accounting for Endogenous Risk" or SPIDER.

Accounting for endogenous risk means jointly considering how human behavior influences disease and how disease influences human behavior, explained Eli Fenichel, workshop co-organizer and assistant professor at Arizona State University. "When people perceive risks, they alter their behavior, which in turn, alters the risk. It's a feedback loop between people, the pathogen, and the risk."

Most current attempts to model the risks of emerging look at the disease itself and human . The SPIDER Working Group aims to build on that classic view by also considering the economic impact of human decisions about risk.

"Epidemiological science has gotten good at modeling and projecting risk. The next major frontier is how do we manage risk in a cost effective way," Fenichel said. "It's a way of thinking about how resources get allocated to address emerging like the flu now. For example, if we believe that people will behave in a certain way given certain information sets, we might be able to find better ways to distribute medicine."

Another avenue for investigation is how the global food trade system would be affected if it becomes the source of a pathogen, Fenichel said. "One of the questions is how do we set up inspections in a cost effective way if we cannot reasonably inspect everything. We need to look at how to best balance the risks and the costs."

The group aims to develop predictive models to forecast the risks associated with emerging infectious diseases in humans, livestock, wildlife, and plants, and to collaborate in developing risk management strategies.

NIMBioS Working Groups are comprised of 10-15 invited participants and focus on specific questions related to mathematical biology. Each group typically meets two to three times over the course of two years at the Institute.

Source: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Explore further: Flexibility in disease outbreak management could save lives and money

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New infectious diseases -- what's the risk?

May 19, 2009

With the current outbreak of swine flu, and in the absence of a vaccine or treatment at present, the only way to contain the virus is to get people around the world to take precautionary measures.

Disease resistance may be genetic

Aug 30, 2007

According to a study in Evolution, resistance to certain infectious diseases may be passed genetically from parent to child. The genetic resistance may be beneficial to families as those with the gene are both unlikely to suf ...

Recommended for you

WHO: Ebola vaccine trials in W. Africa in January

1 hour ago

Tens of thousands of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines could be available for "real-world" testing in West Africa as soon as January as long as they are deemed safe, a top World Health Organization official ...

Ebola cases rise sharply in western Sierra Leone

2 hours ago

After emerging months ago in eastern Sierra Leone, Ebola is now hitting the western edges of the country where the capital is located with dozens of people falling sick each day, the government said Tuesday. So many people ...

US orders new screening for Ebola

2 hours ago

Everyone coming to the United States from the three West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak will now be screened for the deadly disease at one of five airports, the Homeland Security Department said Tuesday.

User comments : 0