This is the second of three posts about the INFORMS Annual Meeting.
I enjoyed a talk by Dr. Richard Larson of MIT about the timely topic of H1N1 and operations research. I tuned out much of the alarmist news prior to the conference (to keep my sanity) and instead adopted a rigorous handwashing regimen. Larson’s talk highlighted the many opportunities for addressing H1N1 issues using operations research, including:
- Queuing for vaccinations.
- Reneging on vaccinations (some health care workers are refusing required vaccinations).
- Timing the vaccinations (before the prevalence peaks) is important for reducing risks, since youths are particularly susceptible to dying from H1N1..
- Locating facilities to manage surge capacity when the epidemic hits.
- Correctly diagnosing and isolating cases of H1N1.
- Supply chains for vaccinations.
Larson and his collaborator Dr. Stan Finkelstein takes a different kind of focus, looking at personal choices, such as hand washing, coughing into sleeves, avoiding handshakes, and avoiding crowds. They examine this issue through non-pharmaceutical interventions. Someone infected with H1N1 infects about 1.5 people in the next 24 hours (on average). This value is the mean of a random variable, which depends on personal choices (like handwashing). He examines the conditions under which the average number of infections decreases below 1.0, when the virus essentially dies out (Similar to my reasoning on vampire populations).
Finkelstein, a medical doctor, discussed some of the policy results. Initial reports suggested that H1N1 has a fatality rate of about 50% (Spanish flu has a FR of 3%). After an initial panic, flu fatigue set in. And the first wave of H1N1 resemble seasonal rather than pandemic flu. But after the recent panicking, many of us simply have not been motivated to improve our personal choices to reduce H1N1 transmission. Case in point, elbow bumping pictured below (instead of hand shaking) did not catch on at the conference as I had hoped. And the anti-bacterial hand gel was not located in useful places at the conference, so I used my own personal stash of anti-bacterial lotion after shaking hands.
I hope some of this research is used to lessen the impact of H1N1 this year before I am transformed into a germ-a-phobe.