Can disease outbreaks be predicted?

Will scientists soon be able to predict disease outbreaks?When working in health care, whether you have a nursing career or a job in medical assisting, the prevention and treatment of disease is an important part of your job description. Over the last decade, disease outbreaks like SARS1 and H1N12 have caused researchers to ramp up their efforts to predict disease outbreaks before they become unmanageable.

According to The Associated Press, health scientists have been trying to use mathematical models and weather patterns to predict disease outbreaks for decades. While many factors contribute to the outbreak of disease, such as human behavior, improvements in weather tracking and satellite technology may some day make it possible to predict widespread fever or disease. This would hopefully give health officials enough time to develop and administer vaccinations to the majority of the population.3

Some experiments have been met with success. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, for example, have developed a groundbreaking method called PRISM (Predicting Infectious Disease Scalable Model) to predict dengue fever outbreaks several weeks before they occur.4

“PRISM is designed to help public health leaders make informed decisions, mitigate threats and more effectively protect their populations,” Sheri Lewis, APL’s global disease surveillance program manager, said in a statement. “Ideally, decision-makers want to learn about a disease outbreak before it spreads.”

While PRISM is still a relatively new process and can currently only be applied to dengue fever, researchers are working to fine-tune their formula to expand its capabilities to other infectious diseases.5

If the scientists are successful, they could revolutionize the way that disease outbreaks are approached by health care professionals.

“By predicting disease outbreaks when no disease is present, PRISM has the potential to save lives by allowing early public health intervention and decreasing the impact of an outbreak,” Lewis said.

1 U.S. National Library of Medicine, ‘Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS),’ Jan. 28, 2013 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004460/
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ‘H1N1 (originally referred to as Swine Flu),’ 2013 – http://www.flu.gov/about_the_flu/h1n1/
3 The Associated Press, ‘Weather can help predict disease outbreaks, experts say,’ jan. 3, 2013 – http://www.oregonlive.com/today/index.ssf/2013/01/weather_can_help_predict_disea.html
4 Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, ‘APL Novel Method Accurately Predicts Disease Outbreaks,’ March 20, 2013 – http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2013/130320.asp
5 Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, ‘APL Novel Method Accurately Predicts Disease Outbreaks,’ March 20, 2013 – http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2013/130320.asp

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