Educational application for understanding epidemiology

Developed by UdL and IRBLleida within the framework of the IlerCOVID project

Putting yourself in the shoes of an expert epidemiologist to predict how a disease will evolve is possible thanks to a new game-based educational application developed by researchers at the University of Lleida (UdL) and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine of Lleida (IRBLleida). EpiPlay is a tool created for the IlerCOVID project 'Science-based education and communication to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics' so that the population learns basic concepts of epidemiology. It runs on Mathematica software and can be downloaded for free from the Wolfram Community platform.

The goal of the game is that any user can "mimic" epidemiological predictions. For this reason, it uses three of the standard mathematical models used in this scientific discipline to track epidemics and pandemics: SIRD, SEIRD and SIDHARTE. "The SIRD is simpler and of generic use when there is little information, the SEIRD already takes into account the incubation time of a disease and the SIDARTHE considers hospitalizations and different levels of severity of the disease", explains the main creator of EpiPlay, professor at the UdL and researcher of the Systems Biology and Statistical Methods for Health Research group, Rui Alves.

With experts from the Distributed Computing group at the Polytechnic School of the UdL, they have developed an easy-to-use application. The user has to adjust as much as possible and in the shortest time possible the predictions about an epidemic. Before starting the game, EpiPlay uses infographics that describe the functioning of each of the three selected models and their parameters. Then, the application simulates the behavior of the disease randomly through a sample "with noise", i.e. with data randomly altered in a way that prevents knowing the real situation.

Depending on the difficulty level selected (beginner, intermediate or advanced), the player has to adjust from four to ten parameters belonging to the three models; observing how the graphs representing the curves of infections, recoveries or deaths, among others, change as their values are modified. "The gamification of the epidemiological models proposed by EpiPlay allows users to understand through practice how each parameter or state of the population in the face of an infectious agent is related to the rest in a quantitative way. In this way, they can understand how very different infectious agents can cause epidemics with similar behavior among the population," explains Alves.

EpiPlay was created during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it does not focus only on this virus, since "epidemiological models are agnostic and do not explain the mechanisms of contagion of a specific vector, but rather the behavior of the population against it in a quantitative manner," explains the researcher. "They can be used to analyze scenarios of different contagious diseases, as long as their target population is correct," he adds.

The research staff at the UdL and IRBLleida are currently working on the implementation of EpiPlay on a web page open to the general public. For its development, funds from the IlerCOVID project of the UdL (2020PANDE00124) of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the FIS project PI20/00377 of the Instituto de Salud Carlos III have been used.

Text: Comunicació IlerCOVID / Premsa UdL

The research team that developed the tool