Infectious disease experts at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health have launched a website that reports weekly predictions for rates of season influenza in 94 cities in the United States based on a scientifically validated system. The URL is cpid.iri.columbia.edu.
Reporting the latest data from the week of December 29, 2013 through January 4, 2014, the website—Columbia Prediction of Infectious Diseases: Influenza Forecasts, or CPID—shows:
New predictions are posted every Friday afternoon during the flu season.
"For the first time, people can see the outlook for seasonal flu in their area by going online," says Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, who led the development of the site and forecasting system. "We hope the site will help foster greater awareness of influenza activity and risk around the country, and motivate individuals to take measures, such as vaccination, to protect themselves against the virus." Dr. Shaman is also affiliated with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia's Earth Institute, which is hosting the website.
The flu forecasting system adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to turn real-time, Web-based estimates of influenza infection into local forecasts of the future influenza incidence by locality.
For the public, the flu forecast may promote greater vaccination, the exercise of care around people sneezing and coughing, and a better awareness of personal health. For health officials, it could inform decisions on how to stockpile and distribute vaccines and antiviral drugs, and in the case of a virulent outbreak, whether other measures, like closing schools, are necessary.
"Flu forecasting is a powerful example of how public health research is leveraging technology to prevent the spread of infections and safeguard our health," says Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, Dean of Columbia's Mailman School.
In the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 die from the flu every year, according to the CDC.
Funding for the project is provided by the National Institutes of Health (GM100467, 1U54GM088558, and ES009089), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security.
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