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The “Game” Of Disease Control



The article “Game theory can help prevent disease outbreaks” can be found on  In the article our authors Istvan Zoltan Kiss and Nicos Georgiu propose that a great way to better control the outbreak of diseases can be found through game theory.  They talk about how people make decisions about travel and getting vaccines based on what they perceive others are doing.  In some cases they may do the logical thing by getting the vaccine, but if they feel like everyone else got it, they may deem it not worth getting.  This can be harmless, but also could result in a massive outbreak if nobody gets vaccines.  Most people would think that banning travel to and from an area affected by disease would contain the issue.  However, studies say otherwise.  There are always people with the disease who will get out and if the best medical professionals can’t get to this area to begin studying the outbreak, it could get to the rest of us later, but with no cure. In this case all parties lose.

Both of their examples show how often in game theory it is better to choose your worse strategy than your best.  If you suck it up and get a vaccine, you not only protect yourself, but also others.  If you don’t ban travel to a disease affected area, a cure might be found even in time for those already infected.  More lives will be saved even if the initial number of infections could be higher.  The way it can be used by governments looking out for the population as a whole is to create restrictions and release many public health announcements that create a Nash Equilibrium for the citizens, making sure that nobody is specifically dissuaded by the communally beneficial option.  This would ensure more people could see the benefit in working together.  This is just like the prisoner’s dilemma we studied in class.  If left unchecked, the individuals looking out for themselves are very likely to screw everyone over for their gain, while if they are made to see the benefit of their less appealing strategy and made to believe their neighbor will cooperate, they are more likely to work together to ensure all parties benefit.  This makes it clear that carefully chosen public health announcements can very well decide whether or not a massive outbreak occurs.


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September 2018