A pair of Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have developed a mathematical tool that could help health experts and crisis managers determine in real time whether an emerging infectious disease such as avian influenza H5N1 is poised to spread globally.
In a paper published recently in the Public Library of Science, researchers Luís Bettencourt and Ruy Ribeiro of Los Alamos’ Theoretical Division describe a novel approach to reading subtle changes in epidemiological data to gain insight into whether something like the H5N1 strain of avian influenza—commonly known these days as the “Bird Flu”—has gained the ability to touch off a deadly global pandemic.
“What we wanted to create was a mathematically rigorous way to account for changes in transmissibility,” said Bettencourt. “We now have a tool that will tell us in the very short term what is happening based on anomaly detection. What this method won’t tell you is what’s going to happen five years from now.”
Bettencourt and Ribeiro began their work nearly three years ago, at a time when the world was wondering whether avian influenza H5N1, with its relatively high human mortality rate, could become a frightening new pandemic. Health experts believe that right now the virus primarily infects humans who come in contact with infected poultry.
But some health experts fear the virus could evolve to a form that would become transmissible from human to human, the basis of a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 50 million people.
The Los Alamos researchers set out to create a “smart methodology” to look at changes in disease transmissibility that did not require mounds of epidemiological surveillance data for accuracy. The ability to look at small disease populations in real time could allow responders and health experts to implement quarantine policies and provide medical resources to key areas early on in an emerging pandemic and possibly stem the spread.
Bettencourt and Ribeiro developed an extension of standard epidemiological models that describes the probability of disease spread among a given population. The model then takes into account actual disease surveillance data gathered by health experts like the World Health Organization and looks for anomalies in the expected transmission rate versus the actual one. Based on this, the model provides health experts actual transmission probabilities for the disease. Unlike other statistical models that require huge amounts of data for accuracy, the Los Alamos tool works on very small populations such as a handful of infected people in a remote village.
After developing their Bayesian estimation of epidemic potential, Bettencourt went back and looked at actual epidemiological surveillance data collected during Bird Flu outbreaks in certain parts of the world. Their model accurately portrayed actual transmission scenarios, lending confidence to its methodology.
In addition to its utility in understanding the transmissibility of emerging diseases, the new method is also advantageous because it allows public health experts to study outbreaks of more common ailments such as seasonal influenza early on. This can assist medical professionals in making better estimates of potential morbidity and mortality, along with assessments of intervention strategies and resource allocations that can help a population better cope with a developing seasonal outbreak.
“We are closing the loop on science-based prediction of transmission consequences in real time,” said Ribeiro. “A program of this type is something that needs to be implemented at a worldwide level to provide an integrated way to respond a priori to an emerging disease threat.”
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security. The Laboratory is operated by a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and global security concerns.
James Rickman | EurekAlert!
Biofilm discovery suggests new way to prevent dangerous infections
23.05.2017 | University of Texas at Austin
Another reason to exercise: Burning bone fat -- a key to better bone health
19.05.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy