Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Flu Outbreaks Predicted with Weather Forecast Techniques

29.11.2012
Scientists at Columbia University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have adapted techniques used in modern weather prediction to generate local forecasts of seasonal influenza outbreaks. By predicting the timing and severity of the outbreaks, this system can eventually help health officials and the general public better prepare for them.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Homeland Security. NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

From year to year, and region to region, there is huge variability in the peak of flu season, which can arrive in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere as early as October or as late as April. The new forecast system can provide “a window into what can happen week to week as flu prevalence rises and falls,” says lead author Jeffrey Shaman, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In previous work, Shaman and colleagues had found that wintertime U.S. flu epidemics tended to occur following very dry weather. Using a prediction model that incorporates this finding, Shaman and co-author Alicia Karspeck, an NCAR scientist, used Web-based estimates of flu-related sickness from the winters of 2003–04 to 2008–09 in New York City to retrospectively generate weekly flu forecasts. They found that the technique could predict the peak timing of the outbreak more than seven weeks in advance of the actual peak.

“Analogous to weather prediction, this system can potentially be used to estimate the probability of regional outbreaks of the flu several weeks in advance,” Karspeck says. “One exciting element of this work is that we've applied quantitative forecasting techniques developed within the geosciences community to the challenge of real-time infectious disease prediction. This has been a tremendously fruitful cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

In the future, such flu forecasts might conceivably be disseminated on the local television news along with the weather report, says Shaman. Like the weather, flu conditions vary from region to region; Atlanta might see its peak weeks ahead of Anchorage.

“Because we are all familiar with weather broadcasts, when we hear that there is a 80 percent chance of rain, we all have an intuitive sense of whether or not we should carry an umbrella,” Shaman says. “I expect we will develop a similar comfort level and confidence in flu forecasts and develop an intuition of what we should do to protect ourselves in response to different forecast outcomes.”

A flu forecast could prompt individuals to get a vaccine, exercise care around people sneezing and coughing, and better monitor how they feel. For health officials, it could inform decisions on how many vaccines and antiviral drugs to stockpile, and in the case of a virulent outbreak, whether other measures, like closing schools, is necessary.

“Flu forecasting has the potential to significantly improve our ability to prepare for and manage the seasonal flu outbreaks that strike each year,” says Irene Eckstrand of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Worldwide, influenza kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people each year. The U.S. annual death toll is about 35,000.

The seed of the new study was planted four years ago in a conversation between the two researchers, in which Shaman expressed an interest in using models to forecast influenza. Karspeck “recommended incorporating some of the data assimilation techniques used in weather forecasting to build a skillful prediction system,” remembers Shaman.

In weather forecasting, real-time observational data are used to nudge a numerical model to conform with reality, thus reducing error. Applying this method to flu forecasting, the researchers used near-real-time data from Google Flu Trends, which estimates outbreaks based on the number of flu-related search queries in a given region.

Going forward, Shaman will test the model in other localities across the country using up-to-date data.

“There is no guarantee that just because the method works in New York, it will work in Miami,” Shaman says.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

David Hosansky | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.ucar.edu/atmosnews

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht A study shows how the brain switches into memory mode
06.05.2016 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht An experimental Alzheimer's drug reverses genetic changes thought to spur the disease
04.05.2016 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nuclear Pores Captured on Film

Using an ultra fast-scanning atomic force microscope, a team of researchers from the University of Basel has filmed “living” nuclear pore complexes at work for the first time. Nuclear pores are molecular machines that control the traffic entering or exiting the cell nucleus. In their article published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers explain how the passage of unwanted molecules is prevented by rapidly moving molecular “tentacles” inside the pore.

Using high-speed AFM, Roderick Lim, Argovia Professor at the Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute of the University of Basel, has not only directly...

Im Focus: 2+1 is Not Always 3 - In the microworld unity is not always strength

If a person pushes a broken-down car alone, there is a certain effect. If another person helps, the result is the sum of their efforts. If two micro-particles are pushing another microparticle, however, the resulting effect may not necessarily be the sum their efforts. A recent study published in Nature Communications, measured this odd effect that scientists call “many body.”

In the microscopic world, where the modern miniaturized machines at the new frontiers of technology operate, as long as we are in the presence of two...

Im Focus: Tiny microbots that can clean up water

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute Stuttgart have developed self-propelled tiny ‘microbots’ that can remove lead or organic pollution from contaminated water.

Working with colleagues in Barcelona and Singapore, Samuel Sánchez’s group used graphene oxide to make their microscale motors, which are able to adsorb lead...

Im Focus: ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of...

Im Focus: Bionic Lightweight Design researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Hannover Messe 2016

Honeycomb structures as the basic building block for industrial applications presented using holo pyramid

Researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) will introduce their latest developments in the field of bionic lightweight design at Hannover Messe from 25...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The “AC21 International Forum 2016” is About to Begin

27.04.2016 | Event News

Soft switching combines efficiency and improved electro-magnetic compatibility

15.04.2016 | Event News

Grid-Supportive Buildings Give Boost to Renewable Energy Integration

12.04.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Expanding tropics pushing high altitude clouds towards poles, NASA study finds

06.05.2016 | Earth Sciences

IU-led study reveals new insights into light color sensing and transfer of genetic traits

06.05.2016 | Life Sciences

Thievish hoverfly steals prey from carnivorous sundews

06.05.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>