Computer model points to flu pandemic strategy

Scientists at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute used a new computer modeling program supported by the NIH to simulate how a lethal pandemic flu outbreak could hit a modern American city that looks a lot like Chicago. And in each of the simulations run for the city of 8.6 million people, a rational use of preemptive household antivirals combined with a consistent program aimed at reducing human contact helped contain the spread of disease. The key, the researchers said, lay in timely initiation of a pandemic plan that included shuttering schools. Their work--which comes at a time influenza is rife around the world and pandemic fears tend to spike-- is outlined in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"VBI's computer simulation models are built on our detailed estimates for social contacts in an urban environment," said VBI Professor and NDSSL Deputy Director Stephen Eubank, who leads the VBI team in the working group. "They provide a realistic picture of how social mixing patterns change under non-pharmaceutical interventions such as closing schools or workplaces. For example, when schools close, young students require a caregiver's attention. That can disrupt social mixing patterns at work if a working parent stays home or make closing schools pointless if the children are placed in large day-care settings. We can use our model to suggest the best mix of intervention strategies in a variety of scenarios, taking factors like these into account."

- read the press release