Math faculty member contributes to new study on pandemic flu

AnnaMummertA Marshall mathematics faculty member, Dr. Anna Mummert, participated in a recent study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE which provides new information for public health officials about mitigating the spread of infection from emerging flu viruses. The report brings new insight into the H1NI pandemic of 2009 and may help officials prepare for future pandemics.

The study was led by researchers at Mississippi State University. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Miguel Hernández in Spain also collaborated on the study.

During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, along with the last three flu pandemics of 1918, 1957 and 1968, the United States experienced multiple peaks, or waves, of infection In this study, the team developed models to explain possible causes of the multiple peaks in pandemic flu, which are largely unknown.

“With the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, we experienced multiple waves of infection,” said Dr. Henry Wan, associate professor at Mississippi State. “The first wave began in March 2009 and peaked in late June and early July…. But China only experienced a single wave of infection. So we created infection models and analyzed the outcomes.”

The models showed that border control had some small effects on outbreaks.

Mummert said, “In 2009, China instituted strict border controls at the onset of the outbreak. We developed models explaining the occurrence of the multiple peaks and tested border control strategies to determine if a strict border control in the United States could reduce the total number of infections.”

Four of the models indicated that stricter border control is related to fewer waves of infection.

The effects of vaccinations were studied in the models, and the authors concluded that the actual H1N1 vaccination distribution schedule played only a small role in curtailing the outbreak. While it has been thought that the timing of school vaccinations played a large role in producing the second wave of infections, the models did not show a strong link, but indicated that an earlier vaccination schedule could have helped.

The research team plans further collaboration in understanding influenza viruses and their spread.