Objectives: Previous attempts to study the 1918–1919 flu in three small communities in central Manitoba have used both three-community population-based and single-community agent-based models. These studies identified critical factors influencing epidemic spread, but they also left important questions unanswered. The objective of this project was to design a more realistic agent-based model that would overcome limitations of earlier models and provide new insights into these outstanding questions.
Methods: The new model extends the previous agent-based model to three communities so that results can be compared to those from the population-based model. Sensitivity testing was conducted, and the new model was used to investigate the influence of seasonal settlement and mobility patterns, the geographic heterogeneity of the observed 1918–1919 epidemic in Manitoba, and other questions addressed previously.
Results: Results confirm outcomes from the population-based model that suggest that (a) social organization and mobility strongly influence the timing and severity of epidemics and (b) the impact of the epidemic would have been greater if it had arrived in the summer rather than the winter. New insights from the model suggest that the observed heterogeneity among communities in epidemic impact was not unusual and would have been the expected outcome given settlement structure and levels of interaction among communities.
Conclusions: Application of an agent-based computer simulation has helped to better explain observed patterns of spread of the 1918–1919 flu epidemic in central Manitoba. Contrasts between agent-based and population-based models illustrate the advantages of agent-based models for the study of small populations. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.