Data61 builds new disease tracker

Aimee Chanthadavong
Senior Reporter

A new tool has been developed by CSIRO researchers to identify when and where a breakout of infectious disease identified overseas, such as dengue and measles, might spread in Australia.

Using multiple data sets from dengue virus outbreaks in Queensland over a period of 15 years as a case study, researchers have designed to tool to identify and track new cases of infection, including the original source in Australia, and links how the disease is transferred between people.

Dr Dean Paini: “When it comes to biosecurity, time is always the enemy.”

Raja Jurdak, a researcher from CSIRO’s Data61, said this new tool has the potential to replace traditional tracking methods of infectious diseases. Such methods are heavily dependent on manual processes such as site investigations and interviews with infected patients about their travel routes.

“Our tool draws on multiple incomplete data sets, including reported dengue cases, tourist surveys, geo-tagged social media posts, and airline travel, and combines them in a smart way to understand the trends that underpin the spread of diseases,” he said.

“This methodology allows us to look into the past and identify the sources of infection and predict the potential future spread of disease.”

The tool has been designed as part of CSIRO’s broader Disease Networks and Mobility Project aimed at developing a real-time surveillance system for human infectious diseases. In addition to determining how diseases could spread domestically, the project will explore how to forecast the number of arriving cases of dengue into Australia.

CSIRO researcher Dean Paini said while Australia is relatively disease-free compared to other parts of the world, it’s important to be able to predict when an outbreak can occur, especially with so many diseases brought in by infected people travelling in and out of the country.

“Understanding how these infections spread once they reach Australia means we can predict when and where an outbreak is likely to occur – this means hospitals and biosecurity agencies can be as prepared as possible,” he said.

“When it comes to biosecurity, time is always the enemy, so being able to direct resources to the right place, at the right time can help diagnose and treat infected people as quickly as possible.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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