Novel mathematical modeling adds “human factor”
Regular as clockwork, the flu arrives every year. And, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population on average will come down with it. About 36,000 people will die.
But among health experts, a bigger concern than the seasonal flu is an outright flu pandemic, such as a human strain of avian flu. And officials say it is not a question of if such a health crisis will come but when. Are we prepared? In a word, say three UCLA researchers, no.
In a report to be published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Computational Biology and currently available online, Sally Blower, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and Romulus Breban and Raffaele Vardavas, postdoctoral fellows in Blower’s research group, used novel mathematical modeling techniques to predict that current health policy — based on voluntary vaccinations — is not adequate to control severe flu epidemics and pandemics unless vaccination programs offer incentives to individuals.
According to the researchers, the severity of such a health crisis could be reduced if programs were to provide several years of free vaccinations to individuals who pay for only one year. Interestingly, however, some incentive programs could have the opposite effect. Providing free vaccinations for entire families, for example, could actually increase the frequency of severe epidemics. This is because when the head of the household makes a choice — flu shots or no flu shots — on behalf of all the other household members, there is no individual decision-making, and adaptability is decreased.
While other models have determined what proportion of the population would need to be vaccinated in order to prevent a pandemic, none of these models have shown whether this critical coverage can actually be reached. What has been missing, according to Blower, a mathematical and evolutionary biologist, is the human factor.
The human factor involves two biological characteristics, “memory and how adaptable people can be,” Blower said. “These characteristics drive human behavior.”
Blower and her group used people’s attitudes toward the seasonal flu to construct their model. With seasonal flu, protective immunity — a flu shot — lasts only one year. Thus, individuals must decide each year whether or not to participate in a vaccination program.
The model Blower’s team developed is inspired by game theory, used in economics to predict how non-communicating, selfish individuals reach a collective behavior with respect to a common dilemma by adapting to what they think are other people’s decisions. The group modeled each individual’s strategy for making yearly vaccination decisions as an adaptive process of trial and error. They tracked both individual-level decisions and population-level variables — that is, the yearly vaccine coverage level and influenza prevalence, where prevalence is defined as the proportion of the population that is infected. The individual-level model was based on the human biological attributes of memory and adaptability.
“We assume that the decision of each individual is based upon self-interest, that people wish to avoid coming down with the flu, preferably without having to vaccinate,” said Breban.
It is the adaptive decision-making by the individual, the researchers say, that may be an important and previously overlooked causal factor in driving influenza epidemiology.
“Including cognitive and personality factors into epidemic models can dramatically change our understanding of why flu epidemics occur.” said Vardavas.
The research was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant. Blower’s lab uses mathematical modeling as a health policy tool to design epidemic control strategies for a variety of infectious diseases. The focus of her research is to develop the study of infectious diseases into a predictive science. Blower’s Web site is www.semel.ucla.edu/biomedicalmodeling/index.asp.
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is an interdisciplinary research and education institute devoted to the understanding of complex human behavior, including the genetic, biological, behavioral and sociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior and the causes and consequences of neuropsychiatric disorders. In addition to conducting fundamental research, the institute faculty seeks to develop effective treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, to improve access to mental health services, and to shape national health policy regarding neuropsychiatric disorders.
Andrew Hyde | alfa
Individual Receptors Caught at Work
19.10.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction
19.10.2017 | Universität Zürich
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy