The Ecology of Whooping Cough
Mentor: Doug Jackson
The control of infectious diseases through improved sanitation and vaccination is one of the great success stories of modern medicine and science. However, in recent years it has become increasingly clear that the great successes achieved against diseases such as smallpox and polio may be exceptions, rather than the rule. With the failure to eradicate or even control a large number of infectious diseases (e.g., influenza, malaria) and the emergence of new diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDS) has come a recognition that the ecology and evolution of diseases are as important as their clinical characteristics. In this project, the REU student will contribute to solving the mysteries of whooping cough, a potentially fatal disease caused by the highly-contagious bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Using a computer-modeling approach informed by the epidemiological details of specific countries, they will help to explore the influence on disease dynamics of vaccination programs; contact rates within and between age groups; and the spatial distribution of humans and the bacterium. This project is an excellent opportunity to learn how an ecological perspective is essential to the control and prediction of infectious diseases, to explore the intersection of biology, policy, and social factors, and to learn new skills, such as computer programming and analysis of large data sets.