Assessing a Measles Outbreak in Your Neighborhood

With summer vacation on the horizon across the United States, kids who are carrying measles from states hard hit like California and Arizona will be mingling to with kids from other states with almost no cases. And officials are still wary about this year’s mini-epidemic.

The outbreak has reignited old debates about vaccinations and whether they are safe. What has been lost in the arguing is what actually happens when a critical mass of parents refuse to have their children vaccinated. It’s pretty ugly.

A project developed at the University of Pittsburgh called FRED, or Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics, is a web-based simulator that allows anyone to see what the consequences of a measles outbreak are in their own community based on two assumptions: 95% of kids are vaccinated, and 80% of kids are vaccinated.

When you try it out you’ll quickly understand why almost everyone has to play by the rules to make vaccinations work best for public health and safety. Even 80% compliance isn’t good enough.

FRED was developed by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health Dynamics Lab. It is not a computer game or something cute cooked up to entertain web surfers. It’s a serious tool used in public-health curriculums at universities, by policy-makers in government, and by researchers. Look around the full site after you check out the measles simulator.

The FRED modeling system uses real data about real people. It knows where schools are and how far apart they are from each other, where each person’s house is and where each person’s job location is. It knows every individual in a geographic region by sex, occupation, age, and some daily behaviors. Studies show that people who tend to not vaccinate their children live clumped in groups, which can be dangerous if you live near them.

For an eye-opener on what could happen in your community if too many parents decide not to inoculate their children, go here.

To a bright future,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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