In an epidemic or a bioterrorist attack, the response of government officials could range from a drastic restriction of mobility — imposed isolation or total lockdown of a city — to moderate travel restrictions in some areas or simple suggestions that people remain at home. Deciding to institute any measure would require officials to weigh the costs and benefits of action, but at present there’s little data to guide them on the question of how disease spreads through transportation networks.
However, a new MIT study comparing contagion rates in two scenarios — with and without travel restrictions — shows that even moderate measures of mobility restriction would be effective in controlling contagion in densely populated areas with highly interconnected road and transit networks. The researchers called the difference between infection rates in the two scenarios the “price of anarchy,” a concept from game theory that’s frequently used as a metric in studies of the controlled use of transportation networks.
The study is driven by researcher Ruben Juanes, graduate student Christos Nicolaides, and research associate Luis Cueto-Felgueroso. The paper was published online July 31 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and is the first to link the concept of price of anarchy to the spread of contagion. It assumes that transmission of the news of the epidemic (which influences how people select travel routes) and the epidemic itself follow the same mobility network, and uses standard epidemiological models to simulate the flow of contagion. Continue reading at MIT NEWS. Photo by Christos Nicolaides/Juanes Research Group.