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1.  Real-time numerical forecast of global epidemic spreading: case study of 2009 A/H1N1pdm 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:165.
Mathematical and computational models for infectious diseases are increasingly used to support public-health decisions; however, their reliability is currently under debate. Real-time forecasts of epidemic spread using data-driven models have been hindered by the technical challenges posed by parameter estimation and validation. Data gathered for the 2009 H1N1 influenza crisis represent an unprecedented opportunity to validate real-time model predictions and define the main success criteria for different approaches.
We used the Global Epidemic and Mobility Model to generate stochastic simulations of epidemic spread worldwide, yielding (among other measures) the incidence and seeding events at a daily resolution for 3,362 subpopulations in 220 countries. Using a Monte Carlo Maximum Likelihood analysis, the model provided an estimate of the seasonal transmission potential during the early phase of the H1N1 pandemic and generated ensemble forecasts for the activity peaks in the northern hemisphere in the fall/winter wave. These results were validated against the real-life surveillance data collected in 48 countries, and their robustness assessed by focusing on 1) the peak timing of the pandemic; 2) the level of spatial resolution allowed by the model; and 3) the clinical attack rate and the effectiveness of the vaccine. In addition, we studied the effect of data incompleteness on the prediction reliability.
Real-time predictions of the peak timing are found to be in good agreement with the empirical data, showing strong robustness to data that may not be accessible in real time (such as pre-exposure immunity and adherence to vaccination campaigns), but that affect the predictions for the attack rates. The timing and spatial unfolding of the pandemic are critically sensitive to the level of mobility data integrated into the model.
Our results show that large-scale models can be used to provide valuable real-time forecasts of influenza spreading, but they require high-performance computing. The quality of the forecast depends on the level of data integration, thus stressing the need for high-quality data in population-based models, and of progressive updates of validated available empirical knowledge to inform these models.
PMCID: PMC3585792  PMID: 23237460
computational epidemiology; H1N1 influenza pandemic; prediction; validation.
2.  Simulation of an SEIR infectious disease model on the dynamic contact network of conference attendees 
BMC Medicine  2011;9:87.
The spread of infectious diseases crucially depends on the pattern of contacts between individuals. Knowledge of these patterns is thus essential to inform models and computational efforts. However, there are few empirical studies available that provide estimates of the number and duration of contacts between social groups. Moreover, their space and time resolutions are limited, so that data are not explicit at the person-to-person level, and the dynamic nature of the contacts is disregarded. In this study, we aimed to assess the role of data-driven dynamic contact patterns between individuals, and in particular of their temporal aspects, in shaping the spread of a simulated epidemic in the population.
We considered high-resolution data about face-to-face interactions between the attendees at a conference, obtained from the deployment of an infrastructure based on radiofrequency identification (RFID) devices that assessed mutual face-to-face proximity. The spread of epidemics along these interactions was simulated using an SEIR (Susceptible, Exposed, Infectious, Recovered) model, using both the dynamic network of contacts defined by the collected data, and two aggregated versions of such networks, to assess the role of the data temporal aspects.
We show that, on the timescales considered, an aggregated network taking into account the daily duration of contacts is a good approximation to the full resolution network, whereas a homogeneous representation that retains only the topology of the contact network fails to reproduce the size of the epidemic.
These results have important implications for understanding the level of detail needed to correctly inform computational models for the study and management of real epidemics.
Please see related article BMC Medicine, 2011, 9:88
PMCID: PMC3162551  PMID: 21771290
3.  Seasonal transmission potential and activity peaks of the new influenza A(H1N1): a Monte Carlo likelihood analysis based on human mobility 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:45.
On 11 June the World Health Organization officially raised the phase of pandemic alert (with regard to the new H1N1 influenza strain) to level 6. As of 19 July, 137,232 cases of the H1N1 influenza strain have been officially confirmed in 142 different countries, and the pandemic unfolding in the Southern hemisphere is now under scrutiny to gain insights about the next winter wave in the Northern hemisphere. A major challenge is pre-empted by the need to estimate the transmission potential of the virus and to assess its dependence on seasonality aspects in order to be able to use numerical models capable of projecting the spatiotemporal pattern of the pandemic.
In the present work, we use a global structured metapopulation model integrating mobility and transportation data worldwide. The model considers data on 3,362 subpopulations in 220 different countries and individual mobility across them. The model generates stochastic realizations of the epidemic evolution worldwide considering 6 billion individuals, from which we can gather information such as prevalence, morbidity, number of secondary cases and number and date of imported cases for each subpopulation, all with a time resolution of 1 day. In order to estimate the transmission potential and the relevant model parameters we used the data on the chronology of the 2009 novel influenza A(H1N1). The method is based on the maximum likelihood analysis of the arrival time distribution generated by the model in 12 countries seeded by Mexico by using 1 million computationally simulated epidemics. An extended chronology including 93 countries worldwide seeded before 18 June was used to ascertain the seasonality effects.
We found the best estimate R0 = 1.75 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.64 to 1.88) for the basic reproductive number. Correlation analysis allows the selection of the most probable seasonal behavior based on the observed pattern, leading to the identification of plausible scenarios for the future unfolding of the pandemic and the estimate of pandemic activity peaks in the different hemispheres. We provide estimates for the number of hospitalizations and the attack rate for the next wave as well as an extensive sensitivity analysis on the disease parameter values. We also studied the effect of systematic therapeutic use of antiviral drugs on the epidemic timeline.
The analysis shows the potential for an early epidemic peak occurring in October/November in the Northern hemisphere, likely before large-scale vaccination campaigns could be carried out. The baseline results refer to a worst-case scenario in which additional mitigation policies are not considered. We suggest that the planning of additional mitigation policies such as systematic antiviral treatments might be the key to delay the activity peak in order to restore the effectiveness of the vaccination programs.
PMCID: PMC2755471  PMID: 19744314
4.  Predictability and epidemic pathways in global outbreaks of infectious diseases: the SARS case study 
BMC Medicine  2007;5:34.
The global spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic has clearly shown the importance of considering the long-range transportation networks in the understanding of emerging diseases outbreaks. The introduction of extensive transportation data sets is therefore an important step in order to develop epidemic models endowed with realism.
We develop a general stochastic meta-population model that incorporates actual travel and census data among 3 100 urban areas in 220 countries. The model allows probabilistic predictions on the likelihood of country outbreaks and their magnitude. The level of predictability offered by the model can be quantitatively analyzed and related to the appearance of robust epidemic pathways that represent the most probable routes for the spread of the disease.
In order to assess the predictive power of the model, the case study of the global spread of SARS is considered. The disease parameter values and initial conditions used in the model are evaluated from empirical data for Hong Kong. The outbreak likelihood for specific countries is evaluated along with the emerging epidemic pathways. Simulation results are in agreement with the empirical data of the SARS worldwide epidemic.
The presented computational approach shows that the integration of long-range mobility and demographic data provides epidemic models with a predictive power that can be consistently tested and theoretically motivated. This computational strategy can be therefore considered as a general tool in the analysis and forecast of the global spreading of emerging diseases and in the definition of containment policies aimed at reducing the effects of potentially catastrophic outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC2213648  PMID: 18031574

Results 1-4 (4)