Modeling a Potential Epidemic: Avian Flu

Team: 1


Area of Science: Epidemiology


Modeling a Potential Epidemic: Avian (Bird) Flu

Problem Definition:

Avian Influenza, also known as Bird Flu is a naturally occurring and very contagious virus among birds. To date, there have been over one hundred known cases of human infection since 1997. The infections are presumed to have been caused by contact with birds infected with the virus, contact with contaminated objects, and through intermediate hosts. In humans, the virus causes severe respiratory illness, pneumonia, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the inner surface of the eyelids), and can be fatal. An "antigenic shift," a process in which the avian influenza strain exchanges genetic material with a human influenza strain can increase the virus's affinity for humans. This exchange could result in a possible pandemic, killing millions of humans and birds.


The project will be modeled using a network of nodes, each containing a number of variables, such as the amount of people in each node, number of people uninfected with the virus, number of people infected but not contagious, number of people who are infectious, and the number of people dead. Several other variables, such as the number of people asymptomatic, and the number of people cured will be included as well, among other information. Each node will be able to simulate any size "container" of people, such as a city, house, or room, making the program adaptable to a variety of situations. Nodes with higher population density will naturally have a higher rate of infection whereas nodes with lower population density will have a lower infection rate. "People" in the more dense nodes will be more likely to contract the virus. We plan to model the travel behavior of the people in the nodes. For example, a person infected with the avian flu will be less likely to travel between nodes. Using a model derived from data collected from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), we will move the "people" from category to category in a non-linear fashion, such as infected symptomatic to dead, or from uninfected to infected symptomatic to cured, possibly skipping certain states altogether.

Progress to Date:

We have completed the preliminary coding phase of the simulation, making use of the data collected from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). We have also finished a simple prototype demonstrating the legitimacy of our program's concept and its applicability to the current situation. We are also currently in the process of determining the actual variables which will determine the communicability of the disease. We plan to obtain this information from the CDC and WHO.

Expected Results:

When our program is successfully running, we hope to be able to determine the effects on populations, and the specific behavior of a virus of an epidemic outbreak of the avian flu on the United States. With data collected from our program's output, epidemiologists can formulate a plan to combat an outbreak of the avian flu. Through future modifications, our program will also be able to be adapted to model the effects and spread of any other disease or pathogen, aiding in the development of a course of action in response to any epidemiological outbreak.

Team Members:

  Christopher Herrera
  Jesus Lopez
  Thomas Hainline
  Anthony Varin

Sponsoring Teacher: Albert Simon