Since arriving at Georgia Tech's School of Mathematics four years ago, Professor Howie Weiss has expanded his research focus in dynamical systems to encompass population dynamics. He collaborated with biologists at Georgia Tech and Emory, epidemiologists at the Center for Disease Control, and other colleagues to use mathematical modeling to study how populations change and how infectious diseases are transmitted through a population. Currently, Dr. Weiss's research projects include modeling the population and evolutionary dynamics of bacteria in physically structured habitats, modeling the competition of flu viruses, and modeling the dynamics of shigellosis outbreaks in the US.
In a recent paper with his former Penn State colleague Anna Mummert, Weiss modeled the effect of self-isolation during an outbreak of a serious infectious disease. During such an outbreak, many individuals follow media reports closely, and as a result, take precautions to protect themselves against the disease. These precautions may include staying home, getting vaccinated, avoiding crowds, using disinfectants, canceling travel plans and wearing face masks.
Weiss and Mummert's model shows that vigorous media reporting, with the ensuing self-isolation of individuals, can have a substantial effect on reducing the severity of an outbreak. The model also yields that the sooner the media coverage of an outbreak begins, the fewer individuals will ultimately be infected, but that almost any media coverage is helpful at reducing the extent of an outbreak. Their paper concludes that public health officials anywhere in the world should get out the news about infectious disease outbreaks loudly and quickly.
This work has been widely publicized; refer to the media coverage of the paper.