Modeling Shows Containment Could Delay, Not Prevent, Pandemic Flu


Can efforts to contain dangerous flu outbreaks at their source prevent further spread of the disease?

New research from scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and the University of Washington in Seattle suggests that containment can buy time to prepare, but containment alone is not enough to stop a flu pandemic from occurring.

Through mathematical modeling, the researchers show that flu outbreaks are likely to emerge in multiple locations and that containment of all outbreaks is improbable. Based on the results, the scientists predict that containment efforts could likely double the time before a pandemic appears. The researchers conclude that containment should be just one element of a multi-pronged preparedness strategy.

This work is part of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS) aimed at developing modeling techniques to understand the spread of infectious diseases, including pandemic flu, and the impact of various interventions. This information could help policymakers and health officials prepare for infectious disease outbreaks. MIDAS is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The published study was also supported by NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The findings appear in “Pandemic Influenza: Risk of Multiple Introductions and the Need to Prepare for Them,” by Christina E. Mills (M.D.-Ph.D. candidate); James M. Robins, M.D.; Carl T. Bergstrom, Ph.D.; and Marc Lipsitch, D.Phil.; and published in PLoS Medicine online on February 20, 2006.

Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., NIGMS director, is available to discuss the results and the MIDAS program. To schedule an interview, please call the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301. To contact the researchers, please call Christina Roache in the Harvard School of Public Health Office of Communications at 617-432-6052 or e-mail her at

For more information about MIDAS, see /Research/FeaturedPrograms/MIDAS/.

NIGMS (, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

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