As the world grows smaller, warmer and wetter, governments need to have an organizational blueprint about how to best respond to infectious disease outbreaks, according to researchers.

Writing in the journal Science, biostatistician M. Elizabeth Halloran, M.D, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, and University of Florida biostatistician Ira Longini, outline how policymakers and healthcare workers can use epidemiological methods, statistics, mathematics, and models of how well vaccination campaigns work to respond to new, unexpected outbreaks.

Although the paper was written before the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the article addresses that kind of situation. Infectious diseases such as Ebola, for which there is not yet a vaccine or effective treatment, will be a challenge, Longini said.

The authors suggest creating mobile stockpiles of vaccines for diseases that have them, such as cholera. Statistical models based on other outbreaks—such as the 2010 outbreak of cholera in Haiti—can help inform policymakers and show healthcare professionals how to administer a vaccine campaign in an efficient and cost-effective way. For example, the researchers found when 60 percent of a population is vaccinated, nearly 100 percent of the population is protected against disease transmission.

The models the researchers use can be adjusted to fit differences in population size, structure and the movement of people within a certain population. For diseases for which vaccines have not yet been developed, the researchers say policymakers and healthcare workers can only survey the disease’s progress, work to quarantine it, and educate the people living within an outbreak’s zone about how to best avoid transmitting disease until vaccine or drugs are developed.

The article is available here.

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