Panic induced by an epidemic can drastically affect everyday life

By Kai Barron, Luis F. Gamboa and Paul Rodriguez-Lesmes

Confronted by a widespread epidemic (e.g. Dengue, Ebola or Zika virus), people must decide whether to make any changes to their everyday lives. Often information about the precise risks of infection is scarce and imperfect. People therefore err on the side of caution and respond by adjusting their daily lives and taking extreme preventative action, such as avoiding public places and reducing hospital visits.

In this project, BCCP Fellow Kai Barron and his co-authors Luis F. Gamboa and Paul Rodriguez-Lesmes study the behavioural response to one such sudden outbreak, namely the 2010 Dengue epidemic in Colombia. In particular, the authors evaluate the influence of this sudden outbreak on the school outcomes of unafflicted students.

Dengue is currently the most prevalent mosquito-borne viral disease afflicting humans, with a 30-fold increase in incidence over the last 50 years and an estimated 50 million annual infections worldwide (WHO, 2009). During the 2010 epidemic in Colombia, there was an increase of over 200 per cent in the incidence in comparison to the previous year. The authors show that an increase in the incidence of Dengue in a particular geographical area lead to a change in education-related behaviour of unafflicted students. In particular, they find that between 1.9 and 4.7 fewer students, out of a typical cohort of 47 pupils, took their school leaving examination for every additional 10 cases of severe Dengue per 10,000 inhabitants in a municipality. Ruling out several possible mechanisms, the authors propose an increase in the salience of the disease’s risks as a plausible explanation for their findings.

The study Behavioural Response to a Sudden Health Risk: Dengue and Educational Outcomes in Colombia is published in the Journal of Development Studies.

In further work on the topic, two of the authors, Luis F. Gamboa and Paul Rodriquez-Lesmes, show that the recent Zika virus outbreak in Colombia lead to a reduction in birth rates of approximately 10% in the last two quarters of 2016.

This study The fertility-inhibiting effect of mosquitoes: Socio-economic differences in response to the Zika crisis in Colombia is published in the journal Economics & Human Biology.