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Casey Zipfel

Casey Zipfel PDI19
Predoctoral Fellowship in Informatics, 2019 Georgetown University

The Interplay Between Infectious Disease Dynamics and Human Behavior


The relationship between human behavior and infectious diseases is subject to dynamic feedback. Infectious disease transmission is governed by social behavior, which can change during the course of an epidemic in response to disease spread. Dynamic social behavior is often ignored in infectious disease models or studied in a theoretical manner, due to lack of relevant, appropriate data. This work integrates large-scale, digital data from medical claims on health and behavior with mathematical models of infectious disease to address this gap in data, and to characterize epidemiological and behavioral mechanisms relevant to understanding and controlling infectious disease. Specifically, this work investigates the effects of health disparities on social behavior and dynamics of seasonal influenza, the effects of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks (like measles and pertussis) on vaccine refusal behavior, and the effects of proposed drivers on childhood vaccination behavior and the resulting landscape of immunity for vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. Findings from this work will inform public health policy regarding sick leave, vaccination, resource allocation, and pandemic planning. It will also guide future infectious disease surveillance processes, and public health education and practice regarding the integral role of the individual. This will also inform appropriate use of digital data in epidemiological modeling, illustrate the power of public health informatics, and guide model complexity for problems of infectious disease and behavior.

I am very thankful to be a recipient of the PhRMA Foundation Informatics Fellowship. This fellowship has allowed me to delve into fascinating questions of public health importance using a novel data source and innovative methodology. I believe receiving this fellowship has helped me to grow as a scientist, and has shaped my research and skills so that I can continue to pursue a career of exciting translational research at the intersection of public health and informatics.

Casey Zipfel