This morning the Globe and Mail ran a long, interesting story: Why can't they figure out the flu? It has to do with mathematically modelling the spread of diseases in general and avian flu in particular. And the Reveres get a mention:
A headline on a public-health blog, Effect Measure, put the matter succinctly: "Flu data constipation at CDC: laxative needed."
The editors at Effect Measure explain that, in epidemiology lingo, an effect measure is an "estimate of the influence of a particular factor on a population's health." In the case of a potential influenza pandemic, the effect measure might be the number of individuals infected or deceased, the number of "susceptibles," the number of latent, asymptomatic, or recovered cases.
These data are the grist that scientists and mathematical modellers run through equations and computer simulations, trying to develop rational strategies for containing and coping with future outbreaks -- hypotheses about when to close borders, how much vaccine to produce, whom to vaccinate and how many hospital beds to have at the ready. These are the practicalities of a pandemic that public-health officials grapple with in drafting policy and strategy manuals.