The modeling of infectious diseases is a tool which has been used to study the mechanisms by which diseases spread, to predict the future course of an outbreak and to evaluate strategies to control an epidemic.
The first scientist who systematically tried to quantify causes of death was John Graunt in his book Natural and Political Observations made upon the Bills of Mortality, in 1662. The bills he studied were listings of numbers and causes of deaths published weekly. Graunt’s analysis of causes of death is considered the beginning of the “theory of competing risks” which according to Daley and Gani is “a theory that is now well established among modern epidemiologists”.
The earliest account of mathematical modelling of spread of disease was carried out in 1766 by Daniel Bernoulli. Trained as a physician, Bernoulli created a mathematical model to defend the practice of inoculating against smallpox. The calculations from this model showed that universal inoculation against smallpox would increase the life expectancy from 26 years 7 months to 29 years 9 months. Daniel Bernoulli's work preceded the modern understanding of germ theory.
The 1920s saw the emergence of compartmental models. The Kermack–McKendrick epidemic model (1927) and the Reed–Frost epidemic model (1928) both describe the relationship between susceptible, infected and immune individuals in a population. The Kermack–McKendrick epidemic model model was successful in predicting the behavior of outbreaks very similar to that observed in many recorded epidemics.