Attribute assignment to a synthetic population in support of agent-based disease modeling

By James Cajka, Phillip Cooley, William Wheaton

Communicable-disease transmission models are useful for the testing of prevention and intervention strategies. Agent-based models (ABMs) represent a new and important class of the many types of disease transmission models in use. Agent-based disease models benefit from their ability to assign disease transmission probabilities based on characteristics shared by individual agents. These shared characteristics allow ABMs to apply transmission probabilities when agents come together in geographic space. Modeling these types of social interactions requires data, and the results of the model largely depend on the quality of these input data. We initially generated a synthetic population for the United States, in support of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study. Subsequently, we created shared characteristics to use in ABMs. The specific goals for this task were to assign the appropriately aged populations to schools, workplaces, and public transit. Each goal presented its own challenges and problems; therefore, we used different techniques to create each type of shared characteristic. These shared characteristics have allowed disease models to more realistically predict the spread of disease, both spatially and temporally.


Cajka, J., Cooley, P., & Wheaton, W. (2010). Attribute assignment to a synthetic population in support of agent-based disease modeling. (RTI Press Publication No. MR-0019-1009). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


James CajkaJames Cajka, MA, is a senior GIS analyst in RTI’s Geospatial Science and Technology Program.

Phillip CooleyPhilip C. Cooley, MS, Senior Fellow in bioinformatics and high-performance computing, is a principal scientist with more than 50 years of experience developing computer models for the study of environmental health and infectious and chronic disease. Cooley has designed and implemented a series of influenza transmission models for the study and management of pandemic flu. He has also designed a model to study the double burden of malnutrition in Indonesia. His current research includes an assessment of statistical methods for biomarker explorations in the context of genome-wide-analysis studies.

William WheatonWilliam D. Wheaton, MA, is a senior research geographer and director of RTI International’s Geospatial Science and Technology program.

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