I’m not sure – maybe Roisin and Karen might be able to answer this one?
There is a very interesting field in applied mathematics that researches how diseases spread through population – it’s called “population dynamics of infectious diseases”. It allows scientists to predict how fast diseases will spread, and how we can combat it best by just quarantining people or moving people away from the infected area. It came in very handy during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago.
The study of how disease happens is called epidemiology. It basically studies the causes, the transmission, spread of disease. It is based on a scientist Called Koch’s postulates… basically to prove the cause of disease you
Must be able to isolate the pathogen from the diseased patient, grow a pure culture of the pathogen, inject the pathogen back into an animal or human and show they get the disease and reisolate the pathogen from the second person / host. This identifies the initial cause (is not done every time) of disease. Pathogens are bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites.
Great answer Karen! Epidemiology is such an important field of study, because if we understand how disease works, then we might be able to come up with more effective ways to fight it! For example, there is a phenomenon in some diseases (particularly bacterial ones) called ‘quorum sensing’. This basically means that bacteria release ‘signalling’ chemicals, which other bacteria of the same type can detect. When the bacteria detect that there are enough of their fellow bacteria around them, they ‘switch on’ and start an infection, however, up until that point they sit dormant. To that end, there are research groups about (including one in UCC) who are trying to come up with chemicals that will block quorum sensing, meaning that the bacteria will never realise that there are enough of them about, and won’t turn on, therefore no infection!