Scientists at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus have created an online simulation to help people understand how individual actions affect the spread of diseases.

The online tool, “Simuland: Beat the Epidemic”, allows people to adjust public behaviour such as daily human contact and personal hygiene to see the resulting impact on infection rates, hospital admissions and deaths.

Professor Dave Hodgson, Director of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus, said: “People are being told to make various behaviour changes – from social distancing to extra hand washing – and many might be struggling to understand why.

“Simuland is intended to show people the link between population-level behaviour and the spread of disease.

“By adjusting the web app’s controls and watching the results, people can see the impact of human behaviour on a simulated ‘SimulaVirus’ outbreak.

“When the Covid pandemic began, we thought about what we could do.

“Members of our research group study wildlife diseases, population biology and social networks.

“The public are now hearing a lot on the news about scientific concepts like infection rates and herd immunity.

“Our simulation brings these concepts together in a simple model of a society of 500 people.

“Using the simulation, people can learn how one public action usually won’t be enough – they have to be used in combination.”

Though it was created in response to Covid-19, the simulation is intended as an education tool only – not for decision-making relevant to the pandemic. It is available for free online, and comes with teaching resources that can be used for home schooling.

The simulation collects no personal information from participants, but the researchers will analyse both the outcomes of various approaches on the spread of the virus, and the choices people make when taking part.