Modelling the trajectory of disease outbreaks works

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

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Network Science Institute, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

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It is important to distinguish between predicting the emergence of infectious diseases and their trajectory (see E. C. Holmes et al. Nature 558, 180–182; 2018). It is currently impossible to predict emergence, but feasible and effective to predict the trajectory.

For example, modelling of established outbreaks was important for responding to those caused by the Ebola, Zika, H1N1 influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) viruses. It helped decision-makers to plan bed capacity (M. I. Meltzer et al. MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly Rep. 65, 85–89; 2016), anticipate travel-related spread (I. I. Bogoch et al. Lancet 385, 29–35; 2015) and plan vaccine trials (A. Camacho et al. Vaccine 35, 544–551; 2017).

Several US government agencies maintain such capabilities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. And the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a report in 2016 that identified epidemic prediction and forecasting as a crucial tool in outbreak preparedness and response (see

Nature 559, 477 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05798-3
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