Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

This week's forecast: Sunny with a 40 percent chance of flu

Date:
November 26, 2012
Source:
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Summary:
Scientists have developed a system to predict the timing and severity of seasonal influenza outbreaks that could one day help health officials and the general public better prepare for them. The system adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to turn real-time, web-based estimates of influenza infection into local forecasts of seasonal flu.

New computer model takes a page from weather forecasting to predict regional peaks in influenza outbreaks

Scientists have developed a system to predict the timing and severity of seasonal influenza outbreaks that could one day help health officials and the general public better prepare for them. The system adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to turn real-time, Web-based estimates of influenza infection into local forecasts of seasonal flu.

Results appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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

As a test case, Dr. Shaman and Alicia Karspeck, PhD, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, used Web-based estimates of flu-related sickness from the 2003-2008 influenza seasons in New York City to retrospectively generate weekly flu forecasts and found that the technique could predict the peak timing of the outbreak more than seven weeks in advance of the actual peak.

In the future, such flu forecasts might conceivably be disseminated on the local television news along with the weather report, says Dr. Shaman. Like the weather, flu conditions vary from region to region; Atlanta might peak weeks ahead of Anchorage. "Because we are all familiar with weather broadcasts, when we hear that there is a 80% chance of rain, we all have an intuitive sense of whether or not we should carry an umbrella," says Dr. Shaman. "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."

As individuals, a flu forecast could prompt us to get a vaccine, exercise care around people sneezing and coughing, and better tune in to how we 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, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which provided funding for the study.

Worldwide, influenza kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people each year; in the U.S. about 35,000 die from the flu every year.

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

In weather forecasting real-time observational data are used to "nudge the model to conform with reality and reduce error in the model simulations," he explains. 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, Dr. Shaman will test the model in other localities across the country using up-to-date data. This is necessary, he says, since "there is no guarantee that just because the method works in New York it will work in Miami."

Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (grant numbers GM100467, GM088558 and ES009089) and the Department of Homeland Security.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jeffrey Shamana and Alicia Karspeckb. Forecasting seasonal outbreaks of influenza. PNAS, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1208772109

Cite This Page:

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "This week's forecast: Sunny with a 40 percent chance of flu." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151052.htm>.
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. (2012, November 26). This week's forecast: Sunny with a 40 percent chance of flu. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151052.htm
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "This week's forecast: Sunny with a 40 percent chance of flu." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151052.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Contagious Respiratory Illness Continues to Spread Across U.S.

Contagious Respiratory Illness Continues to Spread Across U.S.

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 12, 2014) Hundreds of children in several states have been stricken by a serious respiratory illness that is spreading across the U.S. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Batters Sierra Leone Economy Too

Ebola Batters Sierra Leone Economy Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 12, 2014) The World Health Organisation warns that local health workers in West Africa can't keep up with Ebola - and among those countries hardest hit by the outbreak, the economic damage is coming into focus, too. As David Pollard reports, Sierra Leone admits that growth in one of the poorest economies in the region is taking a beating. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Health Care Workers 'Chasing' Ebola Outbreak

Health Care Workers 'Chasing' Ebola Outbreak

Newsy (Sep. 12, 2014) The worst known Ebola outbreak is proving extremely difficult to contain. Hospitals are full, and victims of the virus are suffering in the streets. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins