New infectious disease tool

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Researchers at Australia’s national science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have developed a new tool to understand how infectious diseases found overseas might spread in Australia.

The tool identifies and tracks new cases of infection to their original source in Australia and links how the disease has transferred between people using data from dengue virus outbreaks in Queensland as a case study. It is part of the Disease Networks and Mobility (DiNeMo) project, which is working to develop a real-time alert and surveillance system for human infectious diseases.

CSIRO researcher Dr Dean Paini said that the tool aims to help protect Australia against the increasing risk of infectious diseases. “Although Australia is relatively disease-free compared to other regions of the world, diseases are brought in through infected people who can be Australians returning home from holiday, tourists travelling to Australia, or fly-in fly-out workers travelling abroad,” he said. “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. 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.”

Dr Raja Jurdak, a researcher from CSIRO’s Data61, highlighted the innovative nature of the tool: “Our tool draws on multiple incomplete datasets, 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. This methodology allows us to look into the past and identify the sources of infection, and also predict the potential future spread of disease.”