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UW CSE’s Fahad Pervaiz: Predicting disease outbreaks could save millions of lives

Fahad Pervaiz An international team of researchers that includes UW CSE Ph.D. student Fahad Pervaiz, who works with professor Richard Anderson in the Information & Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab, has come up with a way to predict outbreaks of dengue fever by analyzing calling activity by members of the public to a telephone hotline. In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, Pervaiz and collaborators at New York University, the Punjab Information Technology Board and the Information Technology University in Pakistan present a system capable of predicting disease outbreaks at the level of a city block.

From the UW News release:

“Collecting disease surveillance data traditionally requires a huge infrastructure to gather and analyze disease incidence data from all healthcare facilities in a country or region. The primary appeal for this new system is its capability to closely monitor disease activity by merely analyzing citizen calls on a public-health hotline….

“The team used more than 300,000 calls to the health hotline, set up in the aftermath of the 2011 outbreaks, to forecast the number of dengue cases across the city and at a block-by-block level over a period of two years. The researchers then matched their predictions with the actual number of cases reported in public hospitals. The results showed a high level of accuracy for the model’s predictions: the system not only flagged an outbreak, but also made an accurate forecast of both the number of patients and their locations two to three weeks ahead of time.”

In 2011, more than 21,000 people in Pakistan were infected with dengue fever, and 350 of them died. There is no cure for the virus, so vector control and containment are essential.

“Developing worlds face challenges in tackling major outbreaks due to limited resources,” Pervaiz explained. “Our technique will equip public officials with tools to inform them about where to apply these resources in advance and hopefully save millions of lives.”

Read the full UW News release here and the NYU announcement here. Check out the GeekWire article here.