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Researchers use a game to change how scientists study outbreaks

An international team of scientists has created an innovative tool for teaching the fundamentals of epidemiology—the science of how infectious diseases move through a population.

The team teaches a workshop annually in South Africa that helps epidemiologists improve the mathematical models they use to study outbreaks of diseases like cholera, AIDS and malaria. Led by Steve Bellan from the University of California at Berkeley, the team created a new game as a teaching aid for the workshop. The exercise, which has proven extremely effective in demonstrating concepts in epidemiology, is presented in the April 3 edition of the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology.

Collaborations between bio-mathematicians and classical epidemiologists have resulted in valuable lessons for tracking the spread of diseases, Bellan noted. For example, HIV interventions and efforts to eliminate trachoma, a bacterial infection that causes blindness, have successfully used the tag-team approach. In both cases, studies have shown that when practitioners employ the power of mathematical modeling to improve their intervention strategies, they are more likely to interrupt the progress of an epidemic.

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