220134 Mathematical modeling of outbreaks explained: Real-Life lessons from the living dead

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 : 9:11 AM - 9:29 AM

Eric Lofgren, MSPH , Department of Epidemiology, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Chapel Hill, NC
Nina Fefferman, PhD , Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ
Mathematical modeling of infectious diseases is a powerful tool for research with a rich history of providing otherwise inaccessible insights into the processes of disease spread. The validity and application of these models has, however, been hampered by a lack of communication between modelers and those working in observational public health disciplines. We propose that different approaches used to present methods of mathematical models of disease during student training within these two different communities may be the root cause of this schism. Modelers often have training focused on construction of mathematically elegant or analytically tractable models, whereas epidemiologists, health policy analysts etc. are often more focused on measurements or analyses to determine the real-world complexities of the disease process. By failing to share a common language, public health professionals have difficulty communicating the need for coherence with reality, and modelers have difficulty explaining how etiologically precise models may not be realistically useful due to problems with implementation and analysis.

Instead, we propose a unified, discipline-independent method for teaching epidemiological modeling, using approachable mathematical methods and clear etiological concepts, accessible to students from any discipline without any prior subject-specific knowledge. Using an already existing common cultural reference, for which even those not already familiar can become subject matter experts in only a few hours at most - the 'Zombie Apocalypse' - we explore a number of different outbreak models, their relationship to real-world infectious diseases, and the potential for the use of fantasy and fictional outbreaks as effective, multidisciplinary teaching tools.

Learning Areas:
Biostatistics, economics
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health biology
Public health or related research
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
1. Explain the role of mathematical models in public health research. 2. Design approachable, cross-disciplinary teaching tools using mathematical models. 3. Analyze simple models using common tools.

Keywords: Infectious Diseases, Methodology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I have research experience and academic training in both observational epidemiology and mathematical modeling, and methods used to bridge the two disciplines.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

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