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An economic game to improve disease prevention

on Mon, 01/14/2013 - 12:07


Researchers in economy and computer science at Wake Forest University used an online computer game to simulate the spread of an infectious disease, in order to understand why less than half of the American population has gotten a vaccination against flu, in spite of the severe outbreaks reported this season.
Their study is the first one in economic epidemiology which makes use of virtual diseases to address important issues in the development of preventive healthcare strategies. “Our research shows that to prevent an epidemic, there is a need to tailor a menu of options for different kinds of people,” said Frederick Chen, first author of the article which described the work, published on January on PLoS ONE.
The multiplayer game allowed to test behavior that could not be tested in real life, since it is not possible to give some people treatment and others not. Thanks to this simulation, researchers concluded that if the cost of self-protection is higher, people are more inclined to take a risk, trying to see if they can stay healthy without paying for the vaccination. The model also showed that the number of those who chose to protect themselves increased as the number of people infected around them.