University of Texas at Austin
Mathematical models incorporate various data sources and advanced computational techniques to portray real-world disease transmission and translate the basic science of infectious diseases into decision-support tools for public health. Unlike standard epidemiologic methods that rely on complete data, modeling is needed when there are gaps in data. By combining diverse data sources, models can fill gaps when critical decisions must be made using incomplete or limited information. They can be used to assess the effect and feasibility of different scenarios and provide insight into the emergence, spread, and control of disease. During the past decade, models have been used to predict the likelihood and magnitude of infectious disease outbreaks, inform emergency response activities in real time (1), and develop plans and preparedness strategies for future events, the latter of which proved invaluable during outbreaks such as severe acute respiratory syndrome and pandemic influenza (2-6). Ideally, modeling is a multistep process that involves communication between modelers and decision-makers, allowing them to gain a mutual understanding of the problem to be addressed, the type of estimates that can be reliably generated, and the limitations of the data. As models become more detailed and relevant to real-time threats, the importance of modeling in public health decision-making continues to grow.