Don’t we all want to blame the weather forecasters for ruining our wedding day interrupted by the unwelcome guest of snow or rain? Do we also blame epidemiologists for a bad flu season? As humans, we appears to be far more harsh when predictions do not pan out as reality (better yet the reality that we desire in the first place). We have no apparent tolerance for variance. But if a flu prediction tool such as that developed by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) could one day hand us a I-phone app that could give us the quick and dirty of when the flu cometh, it may become a top app right next to Angry Birds. The research funded by NIH is lead by the MIDAS (Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study) group at Columbia program, which exists with the mission to develop tools for simulating and analyzing different infectious diseases. While weather and flu may appear unrelated at first, the researchers point out the messiness (nonlinearity) inherent to both weather and infectious disease may both be fleshed out with simulation and computational models. The epidemiological factors inherent to flu such as prodromal periods, modes of transmission, infection rates and periods, and the fundamental epidemiological triad of influenza are all input into the model run with real observations of flu spread. While the consumer (the public) would have no need to understanding the underlying algorithms and simulations of the “how and why” flu spreads the way it does, this innovation feeds the public’s needs for the “what and when” of the real life outcome of flu that they would rather not experience at all.
Note: There are other MIDAS groups that you might keep on your radar…University of Pittsburgh & Harvard University