Thursday, 05 December 2019 10:52

Reseachers combine to develop new tool to predict infectious disease spread Featured

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Reseachers combine to develop new tool to predict infectious disease spread Image stuart miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Researchers at the CSIRO, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Queensland Health have developed a new tool to predict the global spread of human infectious diseases, like dengue, and track them to their source.

The tool draws on travel data from the International Air Transportation Association and dengue incidence rates from the Global Health Data Exchange to derive new insights about the spreading dynamics of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease.

Dr Jess Liebig, postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO’s data science arm Data61, said international travel significantly contributes to the rapid spread of dengue from endemic to non-endemic countries.

“According to the World Health Organisation, around half the world’s population is at risk of contracting dengue,” Dr Liebig said.

“By understanding the travel behaviour of infected individuals, we can estimate the number of infections that are imported into different countries each month.

“The tool also determines the infections’ country of origin and is able to uncover the routes along which dengue is most likely spread.”

The universities say that in non-endemic countries such as Australia, local outbreaks are triggered by individuals who acquire the disease overseas and transmit the virus to local mosquitoes.

Professor Raja Jurdak, QUT, said that in many locations, infected individuals are not diagnosed, and dengue can be under-reported to health authorities, making it challenging to monitor risk and prevent the spread of infection.

“According to recent studies, around 92% of symptomatic infections are not reported to health authorities mainly due to low awareness levels and misdiagnosis,” Professor Jurdak said.

“Our tool is one of the first to be able to forecast the absolute number of dengue importations, rather than the relative risk, at a global level.”

The tool identifies the travel route from Puerto Rico to Florida as having the highest predicted volume of dengue-infected passengers travelling to a non-endemic region.

“This provides a useful tool to assist public health authorities with dengue preparedness,” Dr Cassie Jansen, researcher at Queensland Health said.

“It can also help authorities to identify those locations where new dengue outbreaks may occur, following the arrival of infected passengers.”

The tool can be applied to other vector-borne diseases of global concern such as malaria, Zika and chikungunya.

The research is part of the Disease Networks and Mobility (DiNeMo) project aimed at developing a real-time alert and surveillance system for human infectious diseases, and an earlier model was developed to predict the spread of dengue within Australia.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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