Local risk perception enhances epidemic control


As infectious disease outbreaks emerge, public health agencies often enact vaccination and social distancing measures to slow transmission. Their success depends on not only strategies and resources, but also public adherence. Individual willingness to take precautions may be influenced by global factors, such as news media, or local factors, such as infected family members or friends. Here, we compare three modes of epidemiological decision-making in the midst of a growing outbreak using network-based mathematical models that capture plausible heterogeneity in human contact patterns. Individuals decide whether to adopt a recommended intervention based on overall disease prevalence, the proportion of social contacts infected, or the number of social contacts infected. While all strategies can substantially mitigate transmission, vaccinating (or self isolating) based on the number of infected acquaintances is expected to prevent the most infections while requiring the fewest intervention resources. Unlike the other strategies, it has a substantial herd effect, providing indirect protection to a large fraction of the population.

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