Friday, August 14, 2009

Infection + The Undead = Math

Mathematical models are valuable tools for all aspects of life, from determining when it's safe to cross the street to creating supercomputers that map genomes. Mathematicians in Canada have just published a new model that may provide insight into a phenomenon that all of us have had to worry about at one time or another:


Pictured above: flesh-eating zombie.

Models of infectious disease are often used to determine rates of infection and the expected impact of intervention. This latest model takes into account a new variable: what if the infected-but-dead stay in the system, and can continue to spread disease?

The authors consider different scenarios and potentials for human survival, noting that the only real way to vanquish the disease is through "impulsive eradication." Quarantines are (ironically) unrealistic and vaccination will only allow a handful of uninfected to survive while the zombies grow in number. The only mathematically plausible solution is to "act quickly and decisively to eradicate them before they eradicate us."

While the paper seems to poke fun at math, it appears in a book that contains various models and case studies relating to infectious disease, the rest of which are more traditional and very serious. So why the zombie-models? According to the authors, "This demonstrates the flexibility of mathematical modelling (sic) and shows how modelling can respond to a wide variety of challenges in biology."

Think you're up to the math? See for yourself:

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