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Math Biosci. 2012 Aug;238(2):80-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mbs.2012.04.003. Epub 2012 May 3.

Risk perception and effectiveness of uncoordinated behavioral responses in an emerging epidemic.

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Bruno Kessler Foundation, Trento, Italy.


Beyond control measures imposed by public authorities, human behavioral changes can be triggered by uncoordinated responses driven by the risk perception of an emerging epidemic. In order to account for spontaneous social distancing, a model based on an evolutionary game theory framework is here proposed. Behavioral changes are modeled through an imitation process in which the convenience of different behaviors depends on the perceived prevalence of infections. Effects of misperception of risk induced by partial or incorrect information concerning the state of the epidemic are considered as well. Our findings highlight that, if the perceived risk associated to an epidemic is sufficiently large, then even a small reduction in the number of potentially infectious contacts (as a response to the epidemic) can remarkably affect the infection spread. In particular, the earlier the warning about the epidemic appears, the larger the possible reduction of the peak prevalence, and of the final epidemic size. Moreover, the epidemic spread is delayed if individuals' perception of risk is based on a memory mechanism and the risk of infection is initially overestimated. In conclusion, this analysis allows noteworthy inferences about the role of risk perception and the effectiveness of spontaneous behavioral changes during an emerging epidemic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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