Pertussis, zombies, and epidemiology from dynamics

2010 September 7

What can zombies tell us about Whooping Cough? Recently there have been some highly publicized outbreaks of whooping cough (aka Pertussis) in the SF Bay Area, and Los Angeles areas. People are getting very sick, and infants are even dying from a disease that many people think has been eradicated. In fact though, vaccinations for pertussis wear off, and nobody knows how quickly. Even immunity from actually having the disease seems to wear off.

There is a relatively recent article in PLoS Pathogens in which the authors attempt to estimate the duration of natural and vaccination induced immunity to Pertussis by comparing the predictions of an ODE model similar to the one discussed in my Zombies articles to the data observed in studies of Pertussis outbreaks. The main idea being that if the model is approximately correct, the values of the coefficients that best fit the observed dynamics are estimates for things we want to know, such as the duration of immunity.

I haven’t finished reading the article, but I am very interested to go through it carefully and see how they constructed the model and estimated the coefficients. Incidentally, the power of open access journals is clear here. Anyone, without any fancy affiliation with a university, can go and download PLoS articles and read about the research that is being conducted with their taxes.

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