Model to predict cholera outbreaks earlier, better

A new model can predict cholera outbreaks 11 months ahead, says report. Copyright: Wikipedia

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[DHAKA] A newly developed cholera prediction model can help warn against possible outbreaks of the water-borne disease 11 months in advance.  

The model, tested by a team of scientists from Bangladesh and the US, was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month (23 January).

Scientists now have a tool that can even predict the severity of a cholera outbreak, Mohammad Yunus, senior scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, and a co-author of the report, told SciDev.Net.

The model classifies areas into no cholera, low cholera and high cholera zones and understands the dynamics of outbreaks as related to floods and other weather events in each location. Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and symptoms include watery diarrhoea and vomiting.

While the scientists have tested the model for use within the city of Dhaka and in hospitals in the administrative sub-divisions, using it on a nationwide scale would require highly trained mathematicians and personnel with computer modelling skills, Yunus said.

Yunus added, however, that "some form of the model could be implemented for prediction using user-friendly software." 

While the basic science for a model to predict large cholera epidemics with an 11-month lead time has been devised, "an operational cholera prediction system would require developing tools that allow other scientists to input data for a particular area," Yunus explained.

"At present there are no prediction tools. So, scientists would need to replicate the study for either a different year or time," Yunus said. "If prediction model software tools are developed, and if scientists have the proper input data, then they could do the prediction themselves."

Yunus said the research group was also studying the model’s effectiveness in predicting other diarrhoeal diseases. "We are doing the research in collaboration with our colleagues in Michigan (University of Michigan) and have plans to develop the software jointly. "

"The model needs to be validated with more studies using real time data," observed Mahmudur Rahman, director of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research and National Influenza Centre, Bangladesh.

"If the group is successful, this model can help predict large cholera outbreaks," Rahman said.