Science

Experts can now PREDICT outbreaks of Covid-19

Experts PREDICT future Covid-19 outbreaks: Hotspots can be identified using patient data and successfully identified Leicester and Manchester spikes which led to local lockdowns

  • ZOE app from KCL accurately predicted Leicester and Manchester outbreaks  
  • Northwestern University’s global system predicts a spike in Wyoming  
  • Experts say the systems can be used to inform Covid-19 policy decisions 

Data on coronavirus cases is now being used to accurately predict future outbreaks. 

Experts at King’s College London gather details from 2.8million Britons who use their ZOE COVID Symptom Study App. 

This records case details and, in a new study published in the Lancet, researchers show the data can reveal where large spikes in infections are likely to occur. 

The project can be employed by policymakers to nip localised outbreaks in the bud and break the chain of transmission, experts say.

It accurately forecast the surge in cases in Leicester and Manchester in June and July, respectively, the KCL academics say.   

Two projects have shown that data on coronavirus cases can be used to accurately predict future outbreaks (stock)

The ZOE app is a UK-specific tool which works on a granular scale, able to spot spikes in local areas.  

Volunteers using the app can report if they have symptoms, what they are, and when they start.  

Dr Mark Graham, co-author of the study from King’s College London, said: ‘The data accurately predicted many of the hotspots that were significantly affected by the second wave, including detecting Leicester in June which then became the first region to be placed under local lockdown. 

‘In mid-July they detected many regions around Manchester, which was also placed under local restrictions in late July. 

‘The data will also likely prove valuable for detecting regional hotspots if we experience a third wave after lockdown is eased.’

Predictions from GASSP project 

  • Hawaii, Vermont and Maine have the smallest rate of new daily infections per 100,000 population, but because their speed is accelerating and their persistence remains positive, they need to enforce masking, social distancing, crowd control and hygiene or they could potentially escalate into explosive growth.
  • Wisconsin is a state where the outbreak will likely continue to explode. Wisconsin and California have similar average number of new COVID cases per day with California 6.8 times bigger than Wisconsin. Wisconsin is disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and yet it was California that declared an emergency stay-at-home order.
  • Wyoming has several indicators over the past three weeks indicating their outbreak is going to get much worse.

The app uses data released every day and is constantly being updated. 

Other approaches used to track the spread of the pandemic, such as by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the REACT study, release information less often.

Dr Graham says the smartphone-based approach is just as effective as the more traditional methods used by ONS and REACT, but more cost effective. 

Professor Sebastien Ourselin, lead senior author from KCL, adds: ‘Earlier identification of hotspots, more information on prevalence and incidents builds a stronger defence in conjunction with the latest data being released.’ 

it comes as Northwestern University in the US has developed a worldwide system called GASSP (GlobAl Sars-Co2 Surveillance Project), which tracks death and case totals and calculates where there will be a surge in infections. 

Northwestern’s project is global and tracks trends in data, noting where cases have increased and where they came from. 

The new system takes this data, processes it, and turns it into a forecast. 

‘Now we can easily identify outbreaks at their beginning,’ said Professor Lori Post, the lead investigator of GASSP. 

‘You want to know where the pandemic is accelerating, how fast it is moving and how that compares to prior weeks.

‘We can inform leaders where the outbreak is occurring before it shows up in overcrowded hospitals and morgues.’

It works on a concept similar to that of the economy, where the contraction and expansion is mapped in detail, allowing people to make projections. 

While the technology has been around for a while, this is the first time it has been applied to disease surveillance, the researchers say.   

Northwestern University has developed a new coronavirus surveillance system that will track where the virus is, where it is going, how quickly it will arrive and whether or not it is accelerating (above, data for states in the south of the US)

Northwestern University has developed a new coronavirus surveillance system that will track where the virus is, where it is going, how quickly it will arrive and whether or not it is accelerating (above, data for states in the south of the US)

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