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This article is part of the supplement: The OptAIDS project: towards global halting of HIV/AIDS

Open Access Research

Epidemic modeling with discrete-space scheduled walkers: extensions and research opportunities

Maciej Borkowski, Blake W Podaima and Robert D McLeod*

Author Affiliations

Internet Innovation Centre (IIC), Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Manitoba, R3T 5V6, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9(Suppl 1):S14  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-S1-S14

Published: 18 November 2009

Abstract

Background

This exploratory paper outlines an epidemic simulator built on an agent-based, data-driven model of the spread of a disease within an urban environment. An intent of the model is to provide insight into how a disease may reach a tipping point, spreading to an epidemic of uncontrollable proportions.

Methods

As a complement to analytical methods, simulation is arguably an effective means of gaining a better understanding of system-level disease dynamics within a population and offers greater utility in its modeling capabilities. Our investigation is based on this conjecture, supported by data-driven models that are reasonable, realistic and practical, in an attempt to demonstrate their efficacy in studying system-wide epidemic phenomena. An agent-based model (ABM) offers considerable flexibility in extending the study of the phenomena before, during and after an outbreak or catastrophe.

Results

An agent-based model was developed based on a paradigm of a 'discrete-space scheduled walker' (DSSW), modeling a medium-sized North American City of 650,000 discrete agents, built upon a conceptual framework of statistical reasoning (law of large numbers, statistical mechanics) as well as a correct-by-construction bias. The model addresses where, who, when and what elements, corresponding to network topography and agent characteristics, behaviours, and interactions upon that topography. The DSSW-ABM has an interface and associated scripts that allow for a variety of what-if scenarios modeling disease spread throughout the population, and for data to be collected and displayed via a web browser.

Conclusion

This exploratory paper also presents several research opportunities for exploiting data sources of a non-obvious and disparate nature for the purposes of epidemic modeling. There is an increasing amount and variety of data that will continue to contribute to the accuracy of agent-based models and improve their utility in modeling disease spread. The model developed here is well suited to diseases where there is not a predisposition for contraction within the population. One of the advantages of agent-based modeling is the ability to set up a rare event and develop policy as to how one may mitigate damages arising from it.