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Infectious Disease Modelers Gather at Fogarty to Address Roadblocks

January - February, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 1

Frustrated by running into the same core problems each time a possible pandemic disease threat emerges, modeling experts from around the world gathered recently at Fogarty to develop a plan to discover solutions.

While there is a wealth of data available from recent epidemics, researchers don't always agree how it should be used to predict the next outbreak. Nor do they see eye-to-eye on how models should be framed for consideration by policy makers. These pressing issues were the subject of a two-day workshop, "Infectious Disease Modeling: Lessons Learned and Future Prospects."

Using case studies from recent outbreaks involving influenza, SARS, and Foot and Mouth disease, the scientists discussed two challenges infectious disease modelers often face. The first involves the hierarchy of models: How much detail does a model need? How can models at different levels of complexity be "nested"? How can they be validated against epidemiological data? The second issue surrounds zoonosis: Is it possible to predict which animal host the next virulent pathogen will emerge from? What makes a zoonosis "good" or "bad" in terms of researchers' ability to model how the infection will spread and how it will respond to efforts to control it?

The meeting marked the beginning of the Research and Policy in Infectious Disease Dynamics program (RAPIDD), which will support several post-doctorate researchers and produce workshops to investigate disease modeling challenges over the next year. RAPIDD, co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, is the result of a multi-agency initiative to address critical needs for preventing and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.

"This event was a wonderful opportunity to bring together current leaders and rising talent to tackle the problems that emerge for any disease model we study," says Fogarty senior scientist, Dr. Ellis McKenzie, who has been instrumental in the development of RAPIDD. "We hope this workshop has initiated the dialogue and collaborations we need to move this field forward."

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