Fighting Ebola with numbers and statistics

Ira Longini, Jr., Ph.D., fights infectious diseases with numbers and statistics.

Longini is one of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute’s biostatistician. He uses mathematical and statistical models to research the transmission and control of infectious diseases.

“We use mathematics and statistics to model epidemics, design, analyze and interpret infectious disease field studies and intervention trials in many setting throughout the planet,” Longini said.

Along with his work with EPI, Longini is a professor of biostatistics in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine. He also serves as the director of UF’s Center for Quantitative Infectious Diseases (CSQUID), which is part of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS) network funded by National Institutes of Health.

Currently, Longini is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) team working on an Ebola vaccine. The team was created as a response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has killed more than 8,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The efforts for the vaccine started in September 2014 and researchers hope to have a vaccine ready in a couple of months after vaccine trials in the affected region.

“This process has been accelerated due to the large Ebola outbreak,” Logini said. “Usually the process of creating an effective vaccine takes from five to 10 years.”

The process for the Ebola vaccine has presented some challenges like figuring out how to set up vaccine trials in West Africa where it is difficult to transport and maintain vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius. Countries are also publically unstable with threat of violence and have very poor public health infrastructures.

Although the cases of Ebola have decreased, especially in Sierra Leon and Liberia, Longini states that this vaccine is still important to create.

“The number of cases of Ebola has gone down dramatically due to burning out of the epidemic and improved diagnostics, burial, and other containment efforts. But the epidemic is not over yet,” Longini said. “We need this vaccine for this epidemic, as well as any future Ebola outbreaks.”

Longini will be working Geneva, Switzerland with WHO until later this year. Along with his work with the Ebola vaccine, Longini is also working on cholera, typhoid, dengue and influenza vaccination projects.

As Longini continues to be involved in important health breakthroughs, his ultimate goal is to alleviate the suffering we have from infectious disease, while at the same time preserving some sort of ecological balance.

“Through teaching and research in the field of quantitative epidemiology,” he said, “I hope to train many students and public health professionals and to make good progress in the intelligent control of infectious diseases.”


Sarai Cruz, Emerging Pathogens Institute