Virtual city used to study flu pandemic

May 09, 2006

A 15-year-old New Mexico high school sophomore says she's discovered closing schools would be the best way to halt a bird flu pandemic.

Laura Glass of Albuquerque, N.M., is one of nearly 1,500 students taking part in this week's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair being held in Indianapolis. The students compete for $1.5 million in scholarships and prizes based on their work.

Glass created a virtual town of 10,000 people to simulate a bird flu pandemic, the Albuquerque Journal reported. She then computed how many people each person came into close contact with daily.

She found most teenagers came into close contact with about 140 people daily, the most of any group, with middle and high school students having the greatest potential of spreading the disease.

In her simulation, adults bring the disease into the community and infect their children. "From there," she told the Journal, "it spreads like crazy once it gets (into) ... the schools."

In one simulation in her virtual city of 10,000 people, about half the population became infected. But Glass found closing schools reduced that number to 500.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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