Published in Columbia News, October 29, 2014
Since the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in New York City on Oct. 23, there has been a daily barrage of news reports about the deadly disease. Public officials including Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have weighed in on a range of issues, from mandatory quarantines to how the disease is transmitted.
At Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, researchers have developed a computer model that tracks and forecasts the growth of Ebola cases in West Africa, the epicenter of the disease. For Jeffrey Shaman, an associate professor of environmental health sciences who led the development of the model, that means that much of his day is devoted to sometimes arcane epidemiological measures such as the “basic reproduction number,” or R0, the projected number of cases generated by a single infected person in a fully susceptible population. If R0 is less than 1, the disease will extinguish itself. If it is greater than 1, it will spread—and the larger the number, the harder it will be to control. Right now the R0 in the U.S. is close to zero.Read more