What can zombies tell us about Sinus Infections?

2011 January 14
by Daniel Lakeland

I seem to be on the tail end of the process of recovering from a sinus infection of the sort that takes hold after you’ve had a rhinovirus type cold but your nose has been stuffed up for long enough that the bacteria can have a field day.

The short-cut would have been to take Amoxycillin. I know this because my baby got a sore throat from me and his doctor gave him Amoxycillin and it was effective. The long way around, which I wound up taking but which is impossible for a baby, was to do extensive neti pot treatments and salt water gargling and soforth and hope to control the bacterial population so that the immune system can eventually overwhelm the bacteria and eliminate the infection. The infection was not strep throat luckily. This strategy relies on the idea that the main thing keeping the immune system from eliminating the infection is that the bacteria are isolated from the immune system by physical and chemical defenses such as hiding inside a big ball of mucus which immune cells take a long time to invade, much longer than the doubling time of the bacteria. Instead if you wash away this mucus and bacterial populations and dehydrate the bacterial cells with hypertonic solutions and soforth, you’re essentially using the impulsive attack methodology recommended by the original “When Zombies Attack!” paper.

Now I’m interested in building a compartment model of a sinus infection. With compartments for the sinuses, the throat + tonsil area, the ear, the bronchi,  the lungs, and “the immune system”.  It doesn’t have to be an accurate model that would predict some specific person’s results, or even a model that would predict some population’s actual average results, it just has to be a qualitatively good model that could predict the qualitative results under different types of treatments (ie. how does duration of infection depend on frequency of nasal lavage, or how badly does the infection regress when for some reason regular treatments are interrupted).

Luckily I know that if I ever want to graduate from my PhD program I can’t get too distracted by every interesting mathematically describable thing that happens. Still, some day my book on mathematical modeling for applied sciences might have to have figures on snot production.

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