Scientists develop flu-forecasting model

Scientists at Columbia University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently developed a computer model capable of predicting influenza outbreaks up to weeks in advance.

Experts hope such modeling will lead to flu forecasting that could one day guide decisions as to when to increase flu vaccine production or potentially close at-risk schools, according to

The new model, which was recently examined in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, incorporates some of the same techniques used to predict the weather. The study on flu seasons between 2003 and 2009 in New York City.

The model utilizes data collected by the Google Flu Trends project, which estimates outbreaks based on the location and frequency of flu-related search queries. It also incorporates findings that show how U.S. flu epidemics tend to occur after dry weather periods.

The researchers said that the model is a crucial first step to regularized flu forecasts. In order to be useful on a larger scale, they need to be adjusted based on geographical features, prevalent influenza strains and seasonal varieties between regions.

"Flu forecasting has the potential to significantly improve our ability to prepare for and manage the seasonal flu outbreaks that strike each year," Irene Eckstrand, a program director at the National Institutes of Health, said, reports.

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