Influenza is an infectious disease caused by the influenza virus, and occurs in both seasonal and pandemic forms. Globally, the yearly outbreaks result in approximately three to five million cases of severe illness, with between 300,000 and 650,000 deaths. Generally, at temperate latitudes, the outbreaks occur during local winter; however, around the equator, outbreaks can occur at any time of the year. Death occurs mostly in high-risk groups, including the young, old, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Pandemics occur only occasionally, but with more devastating results. The 1918 pandemic, for example, resulted in between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide.
We have developed mechanistic models to investigate the transmission characteristics of influenza. These models have been applied retrospectively to understand the underlying dynamics of disease spread as well as prospectively in forecasting studies. We have, for example, been predicting ILI cases in the USA for the last four seasons. Our model development centers on a general tool: Dynamics of Interacting Community Epidemics (DICE), which is a unique framework that can help us understand the impact of different containment and non-pharmaceutical mitigation strategies, as well as climate forcing, on the transmission of COVID-19. Uniquely, it is an arbitrarily-scaled hybrid spatial metapopulation model in which individual communities experience deterministic disease dynamics, but between which the process of one community seeding an outbreak in another community is stochastic. DICE already has the capability of incorporating school vacation data, and we have generated evidence that even at large scales (HHS Regions), during non-pandemic seasons, influenza forecasts that incorporate school vacation data are more accurate than those that do not. DICE can be run at the county, state, region, or national level.
All the data collected and processed in our influenza studies has been made publicly available through our infectious disease
web explorer, which can be found at:
Data can be viewed, analyzed, and downloaded from this portal.
Currently, our team is re-focusing its efforts on better understanding the spread and severity of COVID-19, using the lessons learnt from influenza forecasting.