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Scientists developed distinct mathematical models to predict human enterovirus outbreak two years before it occurs.

Enteroviruses are a group of RNA viruses that cause a number of infectious illnesses including hand, foot, and mouth diseases, brain and heart conditions, pneumonia and hepatitis. There are over a hundred different types of enteroviruses, causing nearly 15 million infections and tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year in the United States. Enteroviruses infect mostly children, particularly those younger than 10 years old.

Seasonal pattern of virus outbreaks

Enteroviruses are present in the respiratory secretions, saliva, or feces of an infected person. They are usually spread from person to person through close contact such as touching and shaking hands. Enterovirus infections tend to peak during the summer and fall, and outbreaks occur periodically. For example, EV-A71, a major cause of hand, foot, and mouth diseases, occurs every 3 years in Malaysia and Japan, with a 1-year cycle in China. There are currently no vaccines against enteroviruses, but good personal hygiene habits can help reduce the risk of becoming infected.

Predictive modeling of virus outbreaks

In a recent study published in Science, a group of scientists from the Imperial College London in England developed a distinct mathematical model aimed to understand what causes the changes in incidence over time of the 20 most common types of enterovirus. The scientists used time-series analysis and mathematical modeling to study the surveillance data from Japan collected between 2000 and 2016.

The scientists found that outbreaks of a specific type of enterovirus were closely related to the birth rate each year. They also found that there was a time lag between each of the outbreaks, properly due to the developed immunity within a pool of children. Using the predictive model, the scientists were able to predict the subsequent outbreaks in 2015 and 2016 for most types of enterovirus.

Prepare for the next outbreak

In the near future, the model could be used to predict when the next virus outbreak might occur, how large it will be, and which type might happen. The obtained information could help healthcare practitioners get prepared for the next outbreak. Further validation should be completed regarding the social and demographic structure of the transmission dynamics to fully assess the accuracy of the prediction.

Written by Man-tik Choy, Ph.D

Reference: Pons-Salort, M. &Grassly, N.C.Serotype-specific immunity explains the incidence of diseases caused by human enteroviruses. Science. 2018;361(6404):800-803. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat6777.

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