UT researchers develop pandemic toolkit

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a web-based toolkit to simulate the spread of disease through the state of Texas that will forecast the number of flu hospitalizations.

Lauren Ancel Meyers, an infectious disease epidemiology expert at the university, worked with a team of researchers to develop the Texas Pandemic Flu Toolkit. The web-based service can be used to guide real-time decision making during pandemic-related emergency situations. The system can alert local authorities to how many infections and hospitalizations have occurred.

"While the forecasts will not be exact, they give a rough idea of how many people will be hospitalized around the state and when an epidemic may peak," Meyers said. "Such information can lead to more timely and effective control measures."

The system could give the state an unprecedented ability to forecast and simulate pandemics.

"The toolkit allows us to respond more effectively by providing the ability to quickly adjust predictive variables as we gather information," Bruce Clements, the director of community preparedness with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said. "We can use this information to focus response efforts and optimize resources. These same tools may be used in training and exercises to better prepare our public health workforce."

The U.S. government recently committed hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new applications to harness data streams effectively. The toolkit shows how such a paradigm can affect decisions in the arena of public health.

"We've just scratched the surface in terms of developing quantitative tools that improve our ability to track and control infectious disease outbreaks," Meyers said.