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The science and management of infectious disease are entering a new stage. Increasingly public policy to manage epidemics focuses on motivating people, through social distancing policies, to alter their behavior to reduce contacts and reduce public disease risk. Person-to-person contacts drive human disease dynamics. People value such contacts and are willing to accept some disease risk to gain contact-related benefits. The cost–benefit trade-offs that shape contact behavior, and hence the course of epidemics, are often only implicitly incorporated in epidemiological models. This approach creates difficulty in parsing out the effects of adaptive behavior. We use an epidemiological–economic model of disease dynamics to explicitly model the trade-offs that drive person-to-person contact decisions. Results indicate that including adaptive human behavior significantly changes the predicted course of epidemics and that this inclusion has implications for parameter estimation and interpretation and for the development of social distancing policies. Acknowledging adaptive behavior requires a shift in thinking about epidemiological processes and parameters.


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Eli P. Fenichel, Carlos Castillo-Chavez, M. G. Ceddia, Gerardo Chowell, Paula A. Gonzalez Parra, Graham J. Hickling, Garth Holloway, Richard Horan, Benjamin Morin, Charles Perrings, Michael Springborn, Leticia Velazquez, and Cristina Villalobos. Adaptive human behavior in epidemiological models PNAS 2011 108 (15) 6306-6311 (2011), doi:10.1073/pnas.1011250108

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