An agent-based approach for modeling dynamics of contagious disease spread

Int J Health Geogr. 2009 Aug 5;8:50. doi: 10.1186/1476-072X-8-50.


Background: The propagation of communicable diseases through a population is an inherent spatial and temporal process of great importance for modern society. For this reason a spatially explicit epidemiologic model of infectious disease is proposed for a greater understanding of the disease's spatial diffusion through a network of human contacts.

Objective: The objective of this study is to develop an agent-based modelling approach the integrates geographic information systems (GIS) to simulate the spread of a communicable disease in an urban environment, as a result of individuals' interactions in a geospatial context.

Methods: The methodology for simulating spatiotemporal dynamics of communicable disease propagation is presented and the model is implemented using measles outbreak in an urban environment as a case study. Individuals in a closed population are explicitly represented by agents associated to places where they interact with other agents. They are endowed with mobility, through a transportation network allowing them to move between places within the urban environment, in order to represent the spatial heterogeneity and the complexity involved in infectious diseases diffusion. The model is implemented on georeferenced land use dataset from Metro Vancouver and makes use of census data sets from Statistics Canada for the municipality of Burnaby, BC, Canada study site.

Results: The results provide insights into the application of the model to calculate ratios of susceptible/infected in specific time frames and urban environments, due to its ability to depict the disease progression based on individuals' interactions. It is demonstrated that the dynamic spatial interactions within the population lead to high numbers of exposed individuals who perform stationary activities in areas after they have finished commuting. As a result, the sick individuals are concentrated in geographical locations like schools and universities.

Conclusion: The GIS-agent based model designed for this study can be easily customized to study the disease spread dynamics of any other communicable disease by simply adjusting the modeled disease timeline and/or the infection model and modifying the transmission process. This type of simulations can help to improve comprehension of disease spread dynamics and to take better steps towards the prevention and control of an epidemic outbreak.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Measles / epidemiology
  • Measles / transmission
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Risk Factors
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*