Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the national science agency of Australia, have developed a tool that aims to help protect Australians against the increasing risk of infectious diseases like dengue and measles.
These diseases have already sparked numerous health alerts across the country this year.
According to a recent press release, the new tool will help understand how human infectious diseases found overseas might spread in Australia.
The project made use of data from dengue viral outbreaks in Queensland as a case study.
How the tool works
The tool identifies and tracks new cases of infection to their original source in Australia and links how the disease has transferred between people.
Although Australia is relatively disease-free compared to other regions of the world, according to CSIRO researcher Dr Dean Paini, diseases are brought in through infected people.
These can be Australians who are returning home from holiday, tourists travelling to Australia, or fly-in fly-out workers who are travelling abroad.
Benefits of the tool
The tool is able to provide new insight into the behaviour of human diseases brought into Australia.
It is part of the broader Disease Networks and Mobility (DiNeMo) project aimed at developing a real-time alert and surveillance system for human infectious diseases.
Understanding how these infections spread once they reach Australia provides the capacity to predict when and where an outbreak is likely to occur.
As such, hospitals and biosecurity agencies can be as prepared as possible.
Time is always the enemy when it comes to biosecurity. Therefore, being able to direct resources to the right place, at the right time, can help diagnose and treat infected people as quickly as possible.
Dr Raja Jurdak is a researcher from CSIRO’s Data61, which is the digital innovation arm of the national science agency.
He explained that traditional methods of tracking infection routes often depend on time-consuming site investigations or interviews relating to travel routes of infected patients.
On the other hand, the new tool draws on multiple incomplete datasets, including reported dengue cases, tourist surveys, geo-tagged social media posts, and airline travel.
It would then combine the data in a smart way to understand the trends that underpin the spread of diseases.
This methodology enables them to look into the past and identify the sources of infection as well as predict the potential future spread of disease.
With the increase in the number of the global population comes a reflective increase in travel and urban sprawl.
Autonomous biosecurity tools like this will be critical to help protect the country’s human and environmental health.
The DiNeMo project combines CSIRO’s domain expertise in health and biosecurity with the digital know-how of Data61.
The culprit behind the disease
Dengue is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.
Currently, only the Aedes aegypti is found in mainland Australia, mostly around Northern Queensland.
The Aedes albopictus, meanwhile, prefers cooler climates and can be found as close as the Torres Strait.