Big Data and Epidemics

Health professionals concerned with controlling epidemics typically do not have Big Data expertise, but they have a powerful public health responsibility. To help study infectious disease outbreaks, epidemiologists and mathematical modelers have designed software which uses algorithms to predict the scope of an epidemic. FRED and GLEAMviz are two programs developed to help predict the severity of an epidemic and to find out what strategies might help contain it.

FRED (A Framework for Reconstructing Epidemic Dynamics) was developed by epidemic modelers at the University of Pittsburgh. Because Pittsburgh was the home of the Mr. Rogers TV program, the software was affectionately named after Fred Rogers.  GLEAMviz (Global Epidemic and Mobility model) was developed by an international team of scientists and mathematicians and uses a compartmental system to build an infectious disease model.

Each of these freely accessible online programs has an interface that allows epidemiologists and researchers to model the spread of an infectious disease outbreak. A user selects the location of the outbreak and actions such as vaccinations, school closings, and transportation restrictions that might slow an outbreak. Users also define the technical characteristics of a specific disease such as measles – how contagious it is, how long a person is contagious, how long recovery takes, and the mortality rate.  This information is entered into software that the user has downloaded into her computer.  Once the locational and medical parameters are selected they are submitted to the FRED or GLEAMviz computer facilities which extract the required demographic and transportation Big Data from national data libraries, and run the model. The output is then sent back to the user’s computer for display and interpretation. Pandem-Data students will use both FRED and GLEAMviz.