Del Valle S, Hethcote H, Hyman JM, Castillo-Chavez C
Effects of behavioral changes in a smallpox attack model
The impact of individual and community behavioral changes in response to an outbreak of a disease with high mortality is often not appreciated. Response strategies to a smallpox bioterrorist attack have focused on interventions such as isolation of infectives, contact tracing, quarantine of contacts, ring vaccination, and mass vaccination. We formulate and analyze a mathematical model in which some individuals lower their daily contact activity rates once an epidemic has been identified in a community. Transmission parameters are estimated from data and an expression is derived for the effective reproduction number. We use computer simulations to analyze the effects of behavior change alone and in combination with other control measures. We demonstrate that the spread of the disease is highly sensitive to how rapidly people reduce their contact activity rates and to the precautions that the population takes to reduce the transmission of the disease. Even gradual and mild behavioral changes can have a dramatic impact in slowing an epidemic. When behavioral changes are combined with other interventions, the epidemic is shortened and the number of smallpox cases is reduced. We conclude that for simulations of a smallpox outbreak to be useful, they must consider the impact of behavioral changes. This is especially true if the model predictions are being used to guide public health policy.