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Modelling the spread of disease

14 November 2007

A new approach to simulate the transmission of infectious diseases, such as avian influenza, between people has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface today (Wednesday 14 November 2007).

Using novel computer modelling software, Dr Yang from the University of Southampton, has modelled the spread of a hypothetical disease outbreak across the city of Eemnes, in the Netherlands. The study simulated the complex daily activities and movements of every individual in the city, to identify how their interactions spread the disease.

Faced with diseases such as bird flu, SARS, Foot and Mouth Disease and AIDS, models for infectious disease transmission are becoming increasingly important tools to understand how diseases are spread and how they can be controlled.

It is expected that by 2020, 55 per cent of the world's population will be living in urban areas.

Dr Yang said: "The large density of population living in urban areas increases the probability of intimate contact between people. Simulating the transmission of infectious disease transmission within urban areas is, thus, of great importance."

The model, known as the Individual space-time activity-based model' or ISTAM, recreated the population of Eemnes, their interactions and the city's layout to simulate the movements of individuals, similar to the SIMS computer game. Dr Yang added, "The model has potential to test theories and design surveys that monitor disease outbreaks populations to test the effectiveness of control measures".