Controlling influenza using mathematics

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Credit: Amornrat Phuchom/iStock

Key to controlling the spread of viral infections such as influenza are global vaccination policies as well as models to predict how the virus will spread.

Julia Gog and Bryan Grenfell have used mathematics in both of these areas, offering an essential component of a mathematical model used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to inform influenza vaccine selection, with associated global impacts on public health and the economy.

Their research models the population dynamics of infectious disease where there are multiple strains. The properties of the multi-strain model mean that it is suitable for being used to predict the evolution of influenza, in particular the strain of influenza that will be dominant in the next influenza season.

Their work has also led to an increase in public engagement with science combined with an increased awareness in the UK of the dangers of an influenza pandemic and of potential strategies to limit spread, and has contributed to UK public policy on influenza pandemic preparedness.

For instance, in a ground-breaking citizen science project, over 86,000 people around the UK took part in a nationwide experiment to help plan for the next deadly flu pandemic experiment via the BBC Pandemic App, and a television programme on the project entitled Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic was broadcast in March 2018, generating large public interest.

Gog has been recognised for her key contributions to influenza control by being invited to join the UK government working group on strategic influenza pandemic planning, namely the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling subgroup.