Biostatistician Nicholas Reich of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, an expert in statistical modeling of infectious disease data, is part of a team that recently won a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop and extend statistical and modeling methodologies to correct for biases in surveillance data. Specifically, he and colleagues will collaborate with Thailand’s Ministry of Health to study patterns of dengue fever there. Reich will receive about $700,000 of the total grant.
Dengue fever, a viral infection transmitted to humans by mosquito bites, often causes severe symptoms including a rash, fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain. In extreme cases, it can lead to internal bleeding, organ failure and in rare cases, death. Dengue circulates in over 100 countries and is emerging in much of the western hemisphere including places such as Puerto Rico and Florida, Reich points out. As global temperatures warm due to climate change, dengue may become endemic in more parts of the world. Dengue fever is responsible for an estimated 50 million infections and 19,000 deaths worldwide each year.
“There is an active, multi-pronged global campaign to knock out this disease,” Reich adds. “One of our goals is to create a tool for the Thai health ministry to help them predict the timing and spread of dengue outbreaks in their country so they can allocate their resources effectively.”
The researchers are setting out to enhance understanding of dengue transmission in Thailand, and to improve the Thai dengue surveillance system by providing an integrated approach for predicting future incidence and forecasting the onset of outbreaks in real time. The methods they develop, says Reich, will in turn aid public health officials in responding to emerging dengue epidemics throughout the world. Also, he points out that these techniques should be applicable to a wide variety of diseases and contexts.
Reich, who has previously taught two workshops on outbreak investigations at the Thai Ministry of Public Health, says he and his postdoctoral research assistant will travel there once or twice a year during the period 2013 to 2018 to conduct more training sessions and collaborate on the dengue fever study.
The lead researcher for this work is Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore. Other key personnel are Derek Cummings, also an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and Sopon Iamsirithaworn, director of both the field epidemiology training program in Thailand and the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Field Epidemiology.