Flu Forecasting Website Posts Predictions

Infectious disease experts at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City have launched a website that reports weekly predictions for rates of seasonal influenza in 94 cities in the United States based on a scientifically validated system. The URL is cpid.iri.columbia.edu. New predictions are posted every Friday afternoon during the flu season.

According to a release from the university, the most recent data from the week of December 29, 2013 through January 4, 2014, the website, “Columbia Prediction of Infectious Diseases: Influenza Forecasts” or CPID, shows:

*Flu cases in most of the country are forecast to peak in January, including San Francisco (Jan. 5-11), Chicago (Jan. 12-18), Atlanta (Jan. 12-18), Washington, D.C. (Jan. 12-18), and Los Angeles (Jan. 12-18), New York City (Jan. 19-25), and Boston (Jan. 26-Feb. 1)

*Flu cases are predicted to continue to rise into February for several cities, peaking in Miami during the week of Feb. 2-8 and Providence, RI, during Feb. 16-22.

*Areas of the country hardest hit by seasonal flu—including Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Nevada—have already seen the worst of the outbreak.

The release quotes lead developer Jeffrey Shaman, PhD as saying, “Overall, the 2013-2014 flu season is currently predicted to peak later with fewer cases than the 2012-2013 season but considerably more severe than the 2011-2012 season. For the first time, people can see the outlook for seasonal flu in their area by going online. 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."

The website features”

*An interactive map of the United States the displays the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country flu and incidence numbers for each.

*Influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks.

*A map that illustrates the proportion of flu cases by region.

*Charts that compare the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons.

*Exportable data for each week of the flu season (beginning in 9/29 for the 2013-2014 season).

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, such as closing schools, are necessary. In the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 die from the flu every year. The hope is that the prediction site will lower those numbers.

"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.

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