HOG producers' operational decisions can be informed by an awareness of risks associated with emergent and endemic diseases. Outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) have been re-occurring every year since the first onset in 2013 with substantial losses across the hog production supply chain. Interestingly, a decreasing trend in PEDv incidence is visible. We assert that changes in human behaviors may underlie this trend. Disease prevention using biosecurity practices is used to minimize risk of infection but its efficacy is conditional on human behavior and risk attitude. Standard epidemiological models bring important insights into disease dynamics but have limited predictive ability. Since research shows that human behavior plays a driving role in the disease spread process, the explicit inclusion of human behavior into models adds an important dimension to understanding disease spread. Here we analyze PEDv incidence emerging from an agent-based model (ABM) that uses both epidemiological dynamics and algorithms that incorporate heterogeneous human decisions. We investigate the effects of shifting fractions of hog producers between risk tolerant and risk averse positions. These shifts affect the dynamics describing willingness to increase biosecurity as a response to disease threats and, indirectly, change infection probabilities and the resultant intensity and impact of the disease outbreak. Our ABM generates empirically verifiable patterns of PEDv transmission. Scenario results show that relatively small shifts (10% of the producer agents) toward a risk averse position can lead to a significant decrease in total incidence. For significantly steeper decreases in disease incidence, the model's hog producer population needed at least 37.5% of risk averse. Our study provides insight into the link between risk attitude, decisions related to biosecurity, and consequent spread of disease within a livestock production system. We suggest that it is possible to create positive, lasting changes in animal health by nudging the population of livestock producers toward more risk averse behaviors. We make a case for integrating social and epidemiological aspects in disease spread models to test intervention strategies intended to improve biosecurity and animal health at the system scale.
Bucini, G., Merrill, S. C., Clark, E., Moegenburg, S. M., Zia, A., Koliba, C. J., … Smith, J. M. (2019). Risk attitudes affect livestock biosecurity decisions with ramifications for disease control in a simulated production system. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 6(JUN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00196