DIMACS Working Group on Modeling Social Responses to Bio-terrorism Involving Infectious Agents

May 29 - 30, 2003
DIMACS Center, CoRE Building, Rutgers University

John Glasser, CDC, jwg3@cdc.gov
Ellis McKenzie, NIH, McKenzel@mail.nih.gov
Fred Roberts, Rutgers University, froberts@dimacs.rutgers.edu
Presented under the auspices of the Special Focus on Computational and Mathematical Epidemiology.

Models of infectious-disease epidemiology generally assume a fixed social landscape, in which the public consists of passive bystanders and rational actors who comply with health authorities. It is not clear how well this assumption applies to epidemics of any dread disease, much less ones following terrorist attacks, or the extent to which its validity depends on effective communication by authorities and cooperating media. Some analogies (e.g., Three Mile Island, AIDS or West Nile virus) suggest that episodes of mass panic or hysteria would be rare and localized, while actions based on perceived self-interest (e.g., evacuation, queries from the worried-well, antibiotic stockpiling) would be widespread. Acts of spontaneous altruism and mutual aid, as well as criminal opportunism and civil disruption, would also occur. Insofar as changes in social behavior under stress affect the success of medical and public-health interventions, models used to design them would be improved by incorporating relevant social dimensions. The absence of formalized models of social behavior may help to explain the absence of social phenomena in models of infectious diseases or public responses to disease outbreaks. It could be that the inclusion of such phenomena is an elusive goal, however worthy. Nonetheless, this meeting will bring social-science experts together with infectious-disease modelers to explore the development of inter-disciplinary methods appropriate to this task.
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Document last modified on February 11, 2003.