Program Provides Predictive Surveillance Models for Infectious Disease Outbreak Scenarios

Clara J. Witt, of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues, report in BMC Public Health that the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Division of Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System Operations (AFHSC-GEIS) initiated a coordinated, multidisciplinary program to link data sets and information derived from eco-climatic remote sensing activities, ecologic niche modeling, arthropod vector, animal disease-host/reservoir, and human disease surveillance for febrile illnesses, into a predictive surveillance program that generates advisories and alerts on emerging infectious disease outbreaks.

The programs ultimate goal is pro-active public health practice through pre-event preparedness, prevention and control, and response decision-making and prioritization. This multidisciplinary program is rooted in more than a decade of experience in predictive surveillance for Rift Valley fever outbreaks in Eastern Africa. The AFHSC-GEIS Rift Valley fever project is based on the identification and use of disease-emergence critical detection points as reliable signals for increased outbreak risk. The AFHSC-GEIS predictive surveillance program has formalized the Rift Valley fever project into a structured template for extending predictive surveillance capability to other Department of Defense (DoD)-priority vector- and water-borne, and zoonotic diseases and geographic areas. These include leishmaniasis, malaria and Crimea-Congo and other viral hemorrhagic fevers in Central Asia and Africa, dengue fever in Asia and the Americas, Japanese encephalitis (JE) and chikungunya fever in Asia, and rickettsial and other tick-borne infections in the U.S., Africa and Asia.

The researchers say that under AFHSC-GEIS leadership, the program will refine and expand its model of disease outbreak emergence surveillance. It will build and elaborate upon those component activities that optimize collaborations between partners. It will continue to define those critical detection points that represent the models signal that an outbreak is emerging. The program will continue to advocate for focused, pre-emptive public health action to prevent or mitigate human morbidity and mortality, as well as the destabilizing effects of infectious disease outbreaks.

Witt, et al. write, "In the near term, the predictive surveillance program is expanding upon its initial Rift Valley fever success. It will continue to characterize and validate identified eco-climate anomalies for predictive surveillance application under different ecosystem and habitat conditions. Partners will continue to identify disease-associated vectors and hosts with demonstrated periodic or cyclic disease-transmission pathways that are plausibly associated with eco-climatic events and trends. Partners will investigate vector- and water-borne and zoonotic diseases for which the programs model might be applicable, and most importantly, which present operational risks to DoD force. This expansion is now underway with the programs activities on JE, leishmaniasis, hantavirus and chikungunya fever. The program is initiating pilot activities on Crimea-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks, and malaria."

They add, "By continuing efforts in strengthening pathogen detection capabilities, program components are improving the sensitivity and specificity of the models critical detection points. As the program expands, partners will learn more about the models capabilities and determine where, for what and under what conditions the model does or does not apply. This will necessitate an incremental growth for the program, subjecting model usage to continuous quality assurance and applicability assessments. As the program matures, AFHSC-GEIS will facilitate the appropriate transfer of the components operations to those partner organizations best suited to ensure sustainable, quality-assured predictive surveillance."

The researchers add that success of predictive surveillance will depend on the recognition that it is founded on a meta-system of different surveillance activities, linked by communications, coordination and collaboration between multiple, diverse disciplines, and producing advisories and alerts, which have progressively more certainty over the course of an outbreaks emergence. They write, "No single component can provide sufficient information for accurate predictions. Just because we detect an El NiƱo event, does not mean that a disease outbreak will occur. Similarly, if a vector is present in a locality, it does not mean that the pathogen is present or that disease will be transmitted to humans. Human activities may permit, exacerbate, or prevent human exposure to the risk of disease transmission. It is only when all relevant components of the predictive surveillance model are applied diligently and with scientific rigor to the synthesis of a complete agent-vector-host-environmental scenario, that the program will produce reliable advisories, alerts and predictions."

The researchers conclude that "The role of AFHSC-GEIS in the predictive surveillance program as a whole is to provide an agile, investigative platform for continuously testing different scenarios, combinations of geographic areas, vector- and host-species characteristics, and pathogens to facilitate the development of a stable of predictive surveillance models for an array of different infectious disease outbreak scenarios. In the end, however, even once given, a prediction, advisory, or alert cannot prevent outbreaks. It can only inform the decision-making process for timely, effective public health action."

Reference: Witt CJ, Richards AL, and Masuoka PM, et al. The AFHSC-Division of GEIS Operations Predictive Surveillance Program: a multidisciplinary approach for the early detection and response to disease outbreaks. BMC Public Health 2011, 11(Suppl 2):S10doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-S2-S10

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