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 Using Mathematical Modeling to Tackle the Pandemic Influenza Challenge

BCCDC Hosts International Symposium Ahead of Possible Second Wave of H1N1 Pandemic

VANCOUVER – As the northern hemisphere prepares for the fall flu season, nearly 60 scientists and researchers from Canada and around the world are gathering at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) this week to discuss how mathematical modeling can support the public health response to the ongoing H1N1 influenza pandemic.

“Mitigating the Spread of Influenza A (H1N1), Part II” begins today and follows up on a symposium held in June of this year in Tempe, Arizona, in the early months of the pandemic.

“The timing of this week’s conference is key,” notes Dr. Babak Pourbohloul, Director of the Division of Mathematical Modeling at the BCCDC, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, and one of the organizers of the event. “We’re heading into the fall and winter influenza season and there are concerns that the pandemic virus could pose a significant public health challenge if it evolves into a more virulent form during its second wave. Mathematical modeling enables us to build theoretical models to mimic the network of interpersonal contacts within hospitals, schools, cites, countries and even worldwide. With knowledge of these networks we can incorporate real-time transmission data to create accurate models of disease spread. This quantitative framework allows us to test various intervention strategies prior to, as well as during, a pandemic situation. Mathematical modeling can provide health authorities with probable scenarios across a range of pandemic-related issues that could help strengthen our preparedness and response as the situation unfolds.”

Dr. Pourbohloul chairs the Canadian Consortium for Pandemic Preparedness Modeling (CanPan), consisting of representatives from 23 public health agencies and academic institutions. Scenarios being tested include the size and scope of the pandemic, the attack rate, vaccine and antiviral distribution strategies, and social distancing policies to minimize the spread of the virus.

“Mathematical modeling is more than gazing into a crystal ball,” explains Dr. Pourbohloul. “Yes, there are predictions involved, but they are based on highly-sophisticated and complex mathematical models that take into account a range of real-life factors. The more factors you feed into the model, the more you can rely on the outcome to help make informed decisions and craft sound public health policy to tackle the pandemic influenza challenge.”

“It is encouraging to see that mathematical modeling is increasingly seen as a truly significant weapon in the public health arsenal in combating infectious disease,” notes Dr. Robert Brunham, Provincial Executive and Scientific Director, BCCDC. “Currently, the focus is on the influenza pandemic that’s sweeping the world, but mathematical modeling can be of immense help in providing solutions across the disease spectrum, from emerging infections such as SARS and Ebola to sexually transmitted infections including syphilis and HIV. BCCDC is proud to house an internationally-renowned mathematical modeling division, and pleased to support the global response to the ongoing H1N1 pandemic.”

The workshop is sponsored by the Canadian Consortium for Pandemic Preparedness Modeling (CanPan), British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), Centre for Disease Modeling (CDM), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Mathematics for Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS), The Geomatics for Informed Decisions (GEOIDE), Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center at Arizona State University (MCMSC at ASU) and Pandemic Influenza Outbreak Research Modeling Team (Pan-InfORM).

Dr. Pourbohloul and his colleagues will be collecting their work in a comprehensive report and presenting it to the Public Health Agency of Canada in the very near future.

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Last Updated: September 14, 2009