Expert: Outbreak Transmission Dynamics (Emerging Pathogens Institute)

Expert: Outbreak Transmission Dynamics

As the world grapples for answers and action on the new coronavirus outbreak, researchers who study the dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks are quickly digging into the data. It’s familiar territory for Derek Cummings, Ph.D., a professor of biology at the University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Emerging Pathogens Institute. Cummings specializes in using high-powered math to characterize how infectious diseases are transmitted and what fuels outbreaks.

In January, when China began releasing the numbers of people sickened with a new coronavirus which causes the illness COVID-19, Cummings and a team of colleagues from Lancaster University began crunching data. Their analysis estimated that for every person who was infected, they were likely spreading it to about three more people. This is known as the reproductive number or R-naught, and it’s used in combination with other factors to understand how fast an illness may spread. The resulting paper was submitted to the pre-print server MedRxiv in late January and was picked up by dozens of news outlets.

“We used airline data that give the number of travelers going between major airports in China and the world, and also case numbers from Wuhan, to estimate possible rates of under-reporting and the reproductive number,” Cummings said. “What we found was that there were too many people infected in Thailand and Japan for there to be only the small number of cases that China was initially reporting.”

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