It's simple: increasing complexity of models does not necessarily increase their accuracy

July 19, 2011

Mathematical modeling of infectious diseases is an important tool in the understanding and prediction of epidemics. Knowledge of social interactions is used to understand how infectious diseases spread through populations and how to control epidemics. New research published in BMC Medicine shows that a model, which included dynamic information about the heterogeneity of contact length and rate of making new contacts, was as effective as a more complex model which included the order of contacts.

Data was collected over a two-day period, within the Socio Patterns project, which brings together researchers from Turin (Italy), Marseilles and Lyon (France). 405 people attending the 2009 Annual French Conference on Nosocomial Infections volunteered to wear radiofrequency identification device () which recorded face to face contacts (within a distance of 1-2m). Each day researchers recorded the number and duration of meetings between participants. Nearly 30,000 social contacts were recorded over the two days of the conference allowing dynamic networks to be constructed.

Three aggregations of this data set were used in a SEIR (Susceptible, Exposed, Infectious, Recovered) model of infection. The first (DYN) utilized dynamic and time-order specific data, the second (HET) retained of contacts but not the order of interactions, and the third (HOM) assumed that all interactions were random, homogeneous, and of the same length.

While it might be assumed that knowing the precise order of social contacts may help refine the model, the results from the first two scenarios, DYN and HET, were very similar producing a comparable number of infected individuals and taking the same time to reach peak infection. However, without enough data, the simplest scenario, HOM, estimated a larger number of infected people and therefore a more severe .

Dr Juliette Stehlé from Université de Marseilles concluded, "Adding real life data about the movement of people within social situations is important in refining computational models of how disease is spread. Our results have important implications for understanding the level of detail required needed to produce functional models and better models lead in turn to better anticipation, prevention, and management of emerging infection and epidemics."

More information: Simulation of an SEIR infectious disease model on the dynamic contact network of conference attendees, Juliette Stehle, Nicolas Voirin, Alain Barrat, Ciro Cattuto, Vittoria Colizza, Lorenzo Isella, Corinne Régis, Jean-Francois Pinton, Nagham Khanafer, Wouter Van den Broeck and Philippe Vanhems, BMC Medicine (in press)

Commentary: The importance of including dynamic social networks when modeling epidemics of airborne infections: does increasing complexity increase accuracy? Sally Blower and Myong-Hyun Go, BMC Medicine (in press)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Team finds link between backup immune defense, mutation seen in Crohn's disease

July 27, 2017
Genes that regulate a cellular recycling system called autophagy are commonly mutated in Crohn's disease patients, though the link between biological housekeeping and inflammatory bowel disease remained a mystery. Now, researchers ...

Study finds harmful protein on acid triggers a life-threatening disease

July 27, 2017
Using an array of modern biochemical and structural biology techniques, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have begun to unravel the mystery of how acidity influences a small protein called serum ...

CRISPR sheds light on rare pediatric bone marrow failure syndrome

July 27, 2017
Using the gene editing technology CRISPR, scientists have shed light on a rare, sometimes fatal syndrome that causes children to gradually lose the ability to manufacture vital blood cells.

Brain cells found to control aging

July 26, 2017
Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that stem cells in the brain's hypothalamus govern how fast aging occurs in the body. The finding, made in mice, could lead to new strategies for warding off age-related ...

Post-stroke patients reach terra firma with new exosuit technology

July 26, 2017
Upright walking on two legs is a defining trait in humans, enabling them to move very efficiently throughout their environment. This can all change in the blink of an eye when a stroke occurs. In about 80% of patients post-stroke, ...

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.