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K-State Today

December 5, 2014

College of Engineering researchers awarded NSF RAPID grant for Ebola project

By Mary Rankin

With the current outbreak of the Ebola virus continuing to spread around the globe, a proposal from two College of Engineering researchers to provide quantitative measures for effectiveness of contact tracing using mathematics and computer simulations has been awarded a National Science Foundation RAPID grant.

The research is expected to produce computational tools applicable to other emergent infectious diseases as well. Term of the grant is one year with more than $100,000 in funding.

The contact tracing approach, a mitigation strategy used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finds all individuals who have had close contact with an Ebola case and monitors their health status for 21 days.

Caterina Scoglio, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the principal investigator for "Effectiveness of contact tracing for detection of Ebola risk during early introduction of the virus within the USA." The co-principal investigator is Faryad Sahneh, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Both are core faculty members of the department's network science and engineering group.

The goal of the project is to evaluate risk detection capabilities of contact tracing efforts for Ebola before the epidemic phase and estimate the associated cost in potential scenarios. The K-State team will adapt their network-based modeling framework to the Ebola transmission for the local contact network of infected individuals — household, workplace, hospital, airplane, etc. This simulation will allow the investigators to synthesize scenarios and activities compatible with daily news about Ebola.

"Through extensive simulations and statistical analysis we plan to estimate 'missed detection probability' versus contact tracing cost," Scoglio said. "Missed detection probability, in this context, is the probability that a secondary infected individual is not detected before transmitting the infection to others. A successful implementation of this project will have immediate benefits to U.S. public health and security against infectious disease, strengthening the mutual trust and understanding between health authorities and the public."