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An operational epidemiological model for calibrating agent-based simulations of pandemic influenza outbreaks

Abstract

Uncertainty of pandemic influenza viruses continue to cause major preparedness challenges for public health policymakers. Decisions to mitigate influenza outbreaks often involve tradeoff between the social costs of interventions (e.g., school closure) and the cost of uncontrolled spread of the virus. To achieve a balance, policymakers must assess the impact of mitigation strategies once an outbreak begins and the virus characteristics are known. Agent-based (AB) simulation is a useful tool for building highly granular disease spread models incorporating the epidemiological features of the virus as well as the demographic and social behavioral attributes of tens of millions of affected people. Such disease spread models provide excellent basis on which various mitigation strategies can be tested, before they are adopted and implemented by the policymakers. However, to serve as a testbed for the mitigation strategies, the AB simulation models must be operational. A critical requirement for operational AB models is that they are amenable for quick and simple calibration. The calibration process works as follows: the AB model accepts information available from the field and uses those to update its parameters such that some of its outputs in turn replicate the field data. In this paper, we present our epidemiological model based calibration methodology that has a low computational complexity and is easy to interpret. Our model accepts a field estimate of the basic reproduction number, and then uses it to update (calibrate) the infection probabilities in a way that its effect combined with the effects of the given virus epidemiology, demographics, and social behavior results in an infection pattern yielding a similar value of the basic reproduction number. We evaluate the accuracy of the calibration methodology by applying it for an AB simulation model mimicking a regional outbreak in the US. The calibrated model is shown to yield infection patterns closely replicating the input estimates of the basic reproduction number. The calibration method is also tested to replicate an initial infection incidence trend for a H1N1 outbreak like that of 2009.

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