Does size matter to models? Exploring the effect of herd size on outputs of a herd-level disease spread simulator

Mary Van Andel, Tracey Hollings, Richard Bradhurst, Andrew Robinson, Mark Burgman, M. Carolyn Gates, Paul Bingham, Tim Carpenter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Disease spread modeling is widely used by veterinary authorities to predict the impact of emergency animal disease outbreaks in livestock and to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of different management interventions. Such models require knowledge of basic disease epidemiology as well as information about the population of animals at risk. Essential demographic information includes the production system, animal numbers, and their spatial locations yet many countries with significant livestock industries do not have publically available and accurate animal population information at the farm level that can be used in these models. The impact of inaccuracies in data on model outputs and the decisions based on these outputs is seldom discussed. In this analysis, we used the Australian Animal Disease model to simulate the spread of foot-and-mouth disease seeded into high-risk herds in six different farming regions in New Zealand. We used three different susceptible animal population datasets: (1) a gold standard dataset comprising known herd sizes, (2) a dataset where herd size was simulated from a beta-pert distribution for each herd production type, and (3) a dataset where herd size was simplified to the median herd size for each herd production type. We analyzed the model outputs to compare (i) the extent of disease spread, (ii) the length of the outbreaks, and (iii) the possible impacts on decisions made for simulated outbreaks in different regions. Model outputs using the different datasets showed statistically significant differences, which could have serious implications for decision making by a competent authority. Outbreak duration, number of infected properties, and vaccine doses used during the outbreak were all significantly smaller for the gold standard dataset when compared with the median herd size dataset. Initial outbreak location and disease control strategy also significantly influenced the duration of the outbreak and number of infected premises. The study findings demonstrate the importance of having accurate national-level population datasets to ensure effective decisions are made before and during disease outbreaks, reducing the damage and cost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - May 4 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal populations
  • Biosecurity preparedness
  • Disease spread modeling
  • Outbreak response
  • Quantitative epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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