Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, 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.
According to a recent press release, 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.
In addition, the tool also determines the infections’ country of origin and is able to uncover the routes along which dengue is most likely to spread.
Background of the initiative
Dr Jess Liebig, postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO’s data science arm Data61, explained that 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.
The number of infections that are imported into different countries each month can be estimated by understanding the travel behaviour of each infected individuals.
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, from QUT, shared that infected individuals are not diagnosed in many locations around the globe.
Additionally, 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.
About the tool
The 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.
Dr Cassie Jensen, a researcher from the Queensland Health, explained that this is a useful tool that will assist public health authorities with dengue preparedness.
Furthermore, it can also help authorities to identify those locations where new dengue outbreaks may occur, following the arrival of infected passengers.
The tool can also be applied to other vector-borne diseases of global concern such as malaria, Zika and chikungunya.
It expands on previous work, which modelled how dengue infections from overseas might spread in Australia.
Disease Network and Mobility
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.
An earlier model was developed to predict the spread of dengue within Australia.
DiNeMo combines CSIRO’s expertise in health and biosecurity with the deep technology capabilities of its data science arm, Data61.
The model was recently published in PLOS ONE and is available for download.