Operations Researchers Predict Path of Pandemics

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Using math and computer science, ISyE engineers created a model to forecast the progression of a future pandemic. They looked at the way diseases spread to new people and over distances in order to prepare for future emergencies. The model allows researchers to design the best way to distribute food and vaccines to those in need, as well as the optimum locations and staffing for clinics that would respond.

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Reported August 2008
ATLANTA, Ga. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- In 1918 and 1919, more than a half-a-million Americans died in a huge flu pandemic. We've had other flu outbreaks since, and now, illnesses like bird flu and SARs have raised concerns that another pandemic may be coming. Though we can't know for sure when it will hit, or how severe it will be, a new kind of planning tool may help us prepare for the worst.

College professor John Bugge spends a lot of time riding his bike. Preparing for a pandemic? Not so much. "I guess I would have to say I'm a unprepared as anybody else,* John Bugge, professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga., explained.

It happened in 1918, a huge flu outbreak that spread worldwide. Could it happen again in our time?

At Georgia Tech's Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, researchers say the threat of a modern pandemic is very real. "I would like to say we don't have to plan for it, but the truth is, we expect that it's coming, it's just a matter of when it comes,* Julie Swann, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech, told Ivanhoe.

Now, operations researchers have developed a mathematical model that uses Georgia census data, to track a pandemic before it actually hits. This model can predict when and where the pandemic would spread.

"What's different about the research that we're doing is it really looks at the aspects that relate to the spread of the disease over time and over geography,* Dr. Swann said.

The model can also be used for distributing food and vaccine, so providers can plan ahead. "For example if you're interested in opening food distribution facilities, depending on the number of infected people it will tell you where you should open facilities where you should close them, and how you should allocate your resources,* Pinar Keskinocak, Ph.D., Operations researcher at H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech., told Ivanhoe.

Understanding a pandemic before it hits. It could help ensure we all get the help and medicine we need to survive.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Barbara Christopher
  • Created: 08/26/2008
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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