FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Computer model successfully predicts flu outbreaks in subtropical climates

Computer model successfully predicts flu outbreaks in subtropical climates. | Courtesy of biology.usf.edu

A team of scientists, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health of Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, recently demonstrated a computer model that can predict influenza outbreaks within subtropical climates.

This is the first time that researchers have proven that a computer model can predict the timing as well as the intensity of flu outbreaks in subtropical climates, such as Hong Kong, where influenza seasons can happen more than once a year and at various times.

"These forecasts provide information at lead times that can be valuable for both the public and health officials," Jeffy Shaman, Ph.D., senior author and associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School, said. "Individuals may choose to get a flu vaccine to protect themselves against infection, while officials can anticipate how many vaccines and other supplies are needed, as well as the number of clinicians and nurses needed."


The system was able to forecast regional flu outbreaks for more than 100 cities inside the U.S. Similar to weather forecasting, the computer model develops simulations with the behavior of outbreaks. Then it joins the simulations to make an overall prediction of future outbraks.


"Hong Kong is a crossroads to Asia and the rest of the world, serving as an entry and exit point for flu outbreaks year round, and the region of South East Asia with Hong Kong at its center is often referred to as the global epicenter for flu," Benjamin J. Cowling, Ph.D., professor at the School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, said.

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