Statistically speaking: Summer school devoted to the math of infectious diseases

Some 80 students from around the world are coming to York University May 19 to 27 to take part in an intensive summer school devoted to the mathematical modelling of diseases.

Organized by the University’s Centre for Disease Modelling (CDM), which is part of the York Institute for Health Research, the summer school will see students with a variety of scientific backgrounds and levels of expertise focus on developing and analyzing real-world disease models.

A world airline route transportation map, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Mathematical models of disease transmission often take into account the role of air travel in spreading illness.
A world airline route transportation map, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Mathematical models of disease transmission often take into account the role of air travel in spreading illness

“Disease modelling is a highly interdisciplinary field with plenty of successful stories to show how mathematics can contribute to the prevention and control of infectious diseases,” says York University Professor Jianhong Wu, CDM director.

While at the summer school, the students will be exposed to lectures on public health topics, with a focus on issues such as the global spread of diseases like SARS, HIV and influenza; the health of indigenous populations; vector-borne diseases such as the West Nile virus; and the integration of surveillance, statistical data analysis and dynamic modelling; and simulations of disease outbreaks.

“The lectures and projects are designed for students with diverse backgrounds,” says York Professor Neal Madras, chair of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics in the Faculty of Science. “We will have students working in truly interdisciplinary teams so that they get a ‘taste’ of what it is like to do research at the frontiers of disease modelling.”

Mathematical modelling of diseases plays an important role in forecasting possible outcomes of diseases and epidemics, which in turn can assist public health officials with formulating their plans to contain and control the spread of diseases through interventions such as mass inoculations. The goal of the summer school is to encourage more developing scientists to consider entering the emerging field of disease modelling. As well, organizers are hoping to enhance communication between mathematical modellers and public health scientists and epidemiologists, as there has been little awareness of the role mathematical modelling can play in understanding the potential spread of diseases.

WuJianhong Wu

As part of the summer school program, organizers have arranged for a series of free public lectures to help educate others on specific case studies where disease modelling has played an important role.

On May 19, from 3:30 to 4:30pm in Room 006, Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Building on the Keele campus, University of São Paulo Professor Eduardo Massad will give a lecture titled, “The Analytic Philosophy of Mathematical Epidemiology”. In his presentation, Massad will show how a mathematical model of an influenza outbreak is affected by influences such as travel, anti-viral drugs and vaccinations.

On May 23, from 9 to 10am in Room BA, at the Fields Institute located at 222 College Street in Toronto, Mirjam Kretzschmar, chief science officer at Julius Centre for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Centre, in Utrecht, Netherlands, will talk about mathematical modelling of sexually transmitted infections and HIV transmission. Kretzschmar’s lecture, “Modelling STI and HIV transmission using pair formation models“, focuses on relationships involving two individuals and the role that each partner’s sexual history plays in disease transmission.

Madras_020210Neal Madras

And, finally, on May 26 from 10 to 11:30am in Room 006, TEL Building, Keele campus, Carlos Castillo-Chavez, the Regents Professor and Joaquin Bustoz Junior Professor at Arizona State University, will deliver a presentation titled, “Public Security Infectious Diseases and Public Health: Challenges in Emergent and Re-Emergent Diseases“. Castillo-Chavez will examine the effect of travel on disease transmission, a factor that played a significant role in the transmission of SARS and influenza using a mathematical disease transmission model developed by Ronald Ross, a Nobel prize winning physician who studied the transmission of malaria. Castillo-Chavez will demonstrate how mathematical modelling plays an important role in understanding the transmission of disease.

For more information, visit the 2013 Summer School on Mathematics of Infectious Diseases website.

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