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Lower Vaccination Rates Make Texas Cities Susceptible to Measles Outbreaks

Austin MeaslesA University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study found that large and small cities in Texas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to measles outbreaks due to more parents exempting their children from required vaccinations. Texas is the largest state by population that allows parents to opt their children out of vaccinations for nonmedical reasons making it an interesting place to study measles outbreaks. If the vaccination rate among students in Texas continues to decrease in schools with undervaccinated populations, the potential number of cases associated with measles outbreaks is estimated to increase exponentially. The 2018 vaccination rates in multiple metropolitan areas may permit large measles outbreaks, which could infect not only vaccine refusers but also other members of the population. These findings, published in JAMA Open Network on August 21, 2019, indicate that an additional 5% decrease in vaccination rates, which have been on a downward trend since 2003, would increase the size of a potential measles outbreak by up to 4,000% in some communities.

The Texas Pediatric Society asked the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to model Texas using FRED (Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics), a software platform developed at the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health as a tool for creating simulation models of dynamic processes in human social systems. FRED allows researchers to see how measles could spread from person to person. According to lead author, David Sinclair, "If policy stays as it is and there is no change in the public's perspective of vaccinations and the importance of vaccinating their children, then the potential measles outbreaks will only get worse". When there is "geographic clustering" of unvaccinated people, potential outbreaks get worse.

 

International Biometric Conference (IBC2020) in Seoul

2020 IBC logoDr. Saumyadipta Pyne, scientific director of PHDL and member of the International Program Committee of the 30th International Biometric Conference (IBC 2020), will organize an invited session on the topics of data fusion and statistical matching at IBC 2020 in Seoul during July 5-10, 2020. These topics are key to the practice of sharing and integration of data, which is becoming increasingly popular in science and medicine due to improved data sharing infrastructures, distributed and inter-disciplinary collaborative efforts, and cost sharing initiatives.

While data related issues such as confounding, causal inference, data security and missing data are not new, extension of these classical methodologies to the modern settings of Big Data is crucial to address some of the emerging challenges in data science. How do we draw joint inferences from very different survey designs, or protect individual privacy when combining data across multiple sources, or account for data that are systematically missing across studies that measured distinct sets of variables? This IBC 2020 session will feature cutting edge methodologies for data fusion and statistical matching presented by experts from across the globe.

The session will be held in honor of the birth centenary year (2020) of the legendary statistician C. R. Rao, FRS, who is also a former President of the International Biometric Society, which organizes IBC. In the US, he was formerly professor at University of Pittsburgh, and currently Eberly Professor of Statistics at Pennsylvania State University. Professor Rao's pioneering work (e.g., Rao score test, 1948) laid the foundations of many branches of statistics including data fusion. He also played a key mentoring role in Dr. Pyne's career.

New Health Data Science Course

Split Violin PlotDr. Saumyadipta Pyne, the Scientific Director of PHDL, will be teaching a new Biostatistics course in Fall 2019, BIOSTAT 2036: Introduction to Health Data Science. This course will teach students methods and concepts in data science that are motivated by real life problems in public health. Students will become familiar with data science terms and will learn the concepts of exploratory data analysis, data cleaning, data wrangling, and visualization. Students will learn the necessary skills to tidy, manage, and visualize data and communicate results. This course will mainly use the R programming language but will also teach certain concepts in SQL and Python. The course lectures will cover the following general themes: data structures and representation, data wrangling and processing, computational tools and techniques, and case studies illustrating steps of analysis of real data, including examples from public health.

BIOSTAT 2036 is a newly designed introduction to data science that will be one of the required courses in the soon to be formalized data science concentration of the MS degree in Biostatistics at Pitt Public Health though it will be open to any student. The prerequisite (co-requisite) is BIOST 2039 or permission of instructor. It will be offered in Fall 2019 on Tuesdays, 2:30-4:20 pm in Room A425 Public Health.

Pitt Public Health Leads New MIDAS Network Coordination Center

Wilbert van Panhuis

Pitt Public Health will lead a multidisciplinary group of computer scientists, biostatisticians and biomedical informatics experts to direct the inaugural Network Coordination Center for the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS), a collaborative research network originally launched by the NIH in 2004 to assist the nation in preparing for infectious disease threats. Backed by a five-year, $6.7 million NIH grant, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will support an open, community-driven discovery process where all scientists and the broader community have the chance to analyze datasets. Leading the new center is Wilbert van Panhuis, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and biomedical informatics at Pitt's School of Medicine. "The scientific community is increasingly recognizing that sharing research data and software not only benefits individual research projects, but increases the impact of science and innovation on the greater good. However, nobody's figured out exactly how to do this for global infectious diseases. What we're going to do is leverage that interest in 'open science' to create a framework that will make it easy to share, find and use research data and software to combat infectious diseases," said Van Panhuis. Click here to read the May 20, 2019 press release.

PHDL Participates in Modeling World’s Systems Conference

Mark Roberts, MD, MPP Wilbert van Panhuis, MD, PhD David Sinclair, PhD

The University of Pittsburgh, through its newly formed School of Computing and Information, leads an initiative to enhance the technological and policy aspects of modeling and managing the world's complicated, interacting systems. This goal – rational analysis and management of complicated systems – is shared by unusually diverse stakeholders from government, industry, non-profits, foundations and academics.

The 2019 conference will be held May 13-15 in Washington, DC and will feature refereed papers and posters in addition to invited sessions. This meeting is a convening of stakeholders, not an academic conference. It will recognize and mobilize a latent community of stakeholders, and organize a professional society and develop modes of communication, survey the state of the art in technologies for modeling and managing complicated systems, and discuss important applications.

Mark Roberts, MD, MPP, Wilbert van Panhuis, MD, PhD and David Sinclair, PhD, members of the Pitt Public Health Dynamics Lab (PHDL), will participate as conference committee members and panelists (Mark and Wilbert) and presenter (David).

Dean Burke Keynote Speaker at Harm Reduction Conference

Cato Institute LogoOn March 21, 2019, Donald S Burke, MD, Dean, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, will deliver the keynote address at the Cato Institute conference on Harm Reduction: Shifting from a War on Drugs to a War on Drug-Related Deaths. This conference, featuring clinical and research experts in epidemiology, public health, addiction treatment, and harm reduction, will examine the record of various harm-reduction modalities in the developed world and will consider their potential for improving the problems caused by drug prohibition. Dr. Burke will speak on "Changing dynamics of the drug overdose epidemic in the U.S. from 1979 through 2016". This event will be livestreamed at www.cato.org/live on Thursday, March 21 from 8:15am-3:15pm.

The Cato Institute, located in Washington, DC, is a public policy research organization dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues. The institute uses the most effective means to originate, advocate, promote, and disseminate applicable policy proposals that create free, open, and civil societies in the United States and throughout the world.

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