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October 31, 2002


Predicting Paths of Epidemics: Emory Great Teachers Lecturer Tracks Infectious Disease Outbreaks Using Biostatistic Modeling

Dr. Ira Longini Discusses How Numbers Help Predict Course of Flu, AIDS, and Smallpox

ATLANTA -- Ira M. Longini, Jr., PhD, professor of biostatistics at the Rollins School of Public Health, will give the next Emory University Great Teachers Lecture on Thursday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m. Held in Emory's Miller-Ward Alumni House at 815 Houston Mill Road, the lecture is free and open to the public.

In his lecture, "Predicting Paths of Epidemics: From Flu to AIDS to Smallpox," Dr. Longini will discuss how epidemiologists can use numbers to prevent or stop the spread of infectious diseases, particularly influenza and AIDS. He will also explain how this work helps public health professionals devise the best treatments for the diseases worldwide.

From Flu ...
Influenza epidemics are best contained by the use of vaccine. Dr. Longini and his Emory colleagues used statistical models to estimate vaccine efficacy and influenza infectiousness in various community settings. The estimates were used in a simulation model to replicate flu epidemics in a typical American community.

"The major public health question has been what age groups should be targeted for vaccination in order to limit the flu spreading through an entire community," Dr. Longini says. "We found that vaccination of 50 to 70 percent of children in the community with an appropriately efficacious vaccine could contain flu spreading through the entire community."

... to AIDS
An estimated 40 million people in the world are infected with HIV, with 5 million new infections and 3 million deaths each year. The high costs of antiviral agents used to treat infected people makes it difficult to deploy the agents in most of the developing world.

"Probably the only real hope for controlling HIV on a global scale is a cheap, effective and easy to deploy vaccine," Dr. Longini says. "If a vaccine becomes available over the next five years, the question becomes how we will distribute the limited supply of such a vaccine to the world's population."

Dr. Longini and his research staff are participating in a collaborative project with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and participating countries. The purpose of the project is to develop large-scale mathematical models to help determine the best distribution of a moderately efficacious HIV vaccine in Kenya, Thailand, Brazil and the United States. Preliminary results from their research in Kenya and Thailand will be presented at the lecture.

... to Smallpox
Routine smallpox vaccinations stopped in the United States in 1972, and smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980. However, since the terrorist attacks, there has been a fear that smallpox may be used as a terrorist weapon.

"There is a continuing scientific debate about the most effective vaccination methods in the case of a biological agent attack using smallpox," Dr. Longini says. "Since smallpox vaccine can have serious side effects, this debate is best conducted using reasonable simulations of possible attacks. Our models are standardized to data from past smallpox epidemics, but geared to the contemporary American population."

Dr. Longini has been a Professor of Biostatistics at the Rollins School of Public Health since 1984. He has made extensive contributions to the field of mathematical modeling of infectious diseases, including influenza, HIV, cholera, and smallpox. His work has been used to help public health professionals construct ways of predicting paths of epidemics and fighting the spread of infectious diseases. Dr. Longini has made significant contributions to the study of vaccine effectiveness in the United States and developing countries.

For more information about the Great Teacher Lecture Series, call (404) 727-5686.

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