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Researchers use game to change how scientists study disease outbreaks
Date:4/6/2012

It may seem like a game of tag, but it's an innovative tool for teaching the fundamentals of epidemiology, the science of how infectious diseases move through a population.

An international team of scientists--including researchers who teach an annual clinic at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Muizenberg, South Africa--is helping epidemiologists improve the mathematical models they use to study outbreaks of diseases like cholera, AIDS and malaria.

In 2011, attendees at the clinic were treated to a game of "Muizenberg Mathematical Fever," where players simulate a real life epidemic by passing around pieces of paper that say: "You have been infected."

The paper pieces are followed by instructions for propagating the disease.

The exercise proved so effective in demonstrating concepts in epidemiology that a discussion of the game is published in today's issue of the journal PLoS Biology.

"Infectious disease modeling is an established field of study in bio-mathematics," said Juliet Pulliam, a biologist at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute and co-author of the paper.

"But there has been a tendency for mathematicians to operate separately from practitioners on the ground who track diseases."

The game was intended to convince all players in the epidemiology field that teamwork is the better approach.

"Reducing disease risk requires sophisticated mathematical models to inform public health officials and other policy-makers," said Sam Scheiner, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research.

EEID is a joint NSF-National Institutes of Health program. At NSF, it is co-funded by the Directorates for Biological Sciences and Geosciences.

"This collaborative effort is training researchers in these techniques," said Scheiner, "as well as strengthe
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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