New Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease
Pejman Rohani, Ph.D.
University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.

The Ecology and Evolution of Disease Interference

Infectious diseases remain an important public health issue, both through the emergence of new pathogens and the continued persistence and resurgence of older infections, several of which now boast multi-drug-resistant strains. The Global Burden of Disease project estimated that in the year 2000, more than 10 million deaths worldwide were due to infectious and parasitic diseases alone. Understanding the precise mechanisms underlying disease dynamics, its spread and evolution, therefore, has never been of greater importance.

To achieve detailed understanding for a particular infection, epidemiologists routinely study aspects of the causative aetiological agent (be it a virus, bacterium, fungus, or protozoan) and typically assume no interaction with other pathogens. An exception to this rule is the study of ‘strains’ dynamics, mediated by cross immunity. Recently, I have shown that such immunological interactions are superimposed on ecological interference – the (temporary/permanent) removal of individuals from the susceptible pool following an acute infection. Hence, antigenically distinct (unrelated) pathogens “compete” for hosts, with substantial predicted dynamical consequences. I propose to fully develop this conceptual framework, focusing on key questions: do all infections interfere with each other? Does interference favour higher virulence? How does interference affect antigenic polymorphism? What are its public health implications? These will be addressed using novel mathematical and statistical approaches and extensive disease datasets.

Contact Dr. Rohani.