Big Data strategies to address Ebola

May 8, 2017 by Chris Blake
A scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from a cell (African green monkey kidney epithelial cell line). Credit: NIAID

IBM announced its researchers have used big data analytics to assess the impact of infected animal carriers, or an animal reservoir, in the spread of the Ebola virus in a way not been previously done for earlier disease models. Direct contact with the infected animal – most likely a bat or large snake—whether by touching or eating it—can cause the disease to enter the human population, and then spread.

To help researchers from humanitarian agencies, governments and elsewhere fine tune resource allocation and address the -spread chain more holistically, IBM Research has made available open-source computational models through the Eclipse Foundation's free Spatio-Temporal Epimidemiological Modeling framework (www.eclipse.org/stem), which is available here.

"By addressing the source of infection earlier in the disease-spread we believe that it increases the probability that an entity like the World Health Organization (WHO) can not only reduce an , but also help to prevent a possible pandemic, said Simone Bianco, research staff member, IBM Research - Almaden. "It is important and should not and cannot be understated."

The 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak was a tragedy of enormous proportions. It caused the death of over 11,000 people, while more than 28,000 cases have been reported. From a socioeconomic, perspective, it has brought close to collapse the three African countries most directly impacted: Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

During the outbreak and immediately after its decline, the WHO launched a three-phase program, which aims to increase preparedness and first response, provide critical care, and help prevent the spread of the disease by improving the resilience of the population to an initial infection.

Ebola, whilst a human disease, it is not carried primarily by humans. Primates, including humans and non-human primates like gorillas, are susceptible hosts, in that they are not able to fight the infection and are at high risk of illness and death. The virus becomes human-borne following a contact with an infected carrier animal, a species of animal which has the disease, but does not show clinical symptoms. This is called a spillover event, and it is a frequent occurrence for many diseases. The avian and swine influenza are notable examples, as is Ebola.

In order to identify and successfully implement intervention measures, researchers and governmental agencies often apply epidemiological modeling, the analysis of large amounts of disease-related data. During the epidemic, many researchers, including researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have produced mathematical models and computer simulations to understand the course of the disease and investigate the potential impact of interventions they might implement to combat the spread of the disease.

Initiatives aimed at increasing the number of hospital beds and the accessibility to safe burial have been thoroughly tested for effectiveness in bringing down the infected count. However, very few models have explicitly included the presence of an animal reservoir, and none of them has considered the random nature of those events. A recent publication authored by researchers at IBM, together with colleagues at Montclair State University, has filled that gap by releasing an open-source computational model to study Ebola spread from to humans.

The model accounts for random spillover events from infected animals to the human population and shows how dangerous it would be to overlook control of the infection route. In particular, an increase in the number of infectious contacts between animals and humans could have the effect of making the virus so abundant in the population to become endemic, meaning that new introductions from the reservoir would not be necessary for the disease to spread throughout the country.

In this scenario, the virus would propagate itself within the irrespective of the animal reservoir and potentially become the first step to a pandemic. Historically, it has been found that it would also make it much more difficult and costly for interventions. And, it would probably make it almost impossible for the disease to die out spontaneously in the absence of fast and strong intervention. Therefore, the public health data from the study reveals the importance of also considering preventing the spread of between the animal reservoir and humans.

Explore further: Ebola: profile of a prolific killer

More information: Garrett T. Nieddu et al. Extinction pathways and outbreak vulnerability in a stochastic Ebola model, Journal of The Royal Society Interface (2017). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0847

Related Stories

Ebola: profile of a prolific killer

December 23, 2016
A factfile on the deadly Ebola virus, against which the World Health Organization said Friday a prototype vaccine could be "up to 100 percent effective".

Transmission of Ebola appears tied to increasing population density in forested regions

January 21, 2015
Researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have found an apparent link between human population density and vegetation cover in Africa and the spread of the Ebola virus from animal hosts to humans.

New model could help improve prediction of outbreaks of Ebola and Lassa fever

September 2, 2016
Potential outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and Lassa fever may be more accurately predicted thanks to a new mathematical model developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. This could in turn help inform public ...

How the world stopped Ebola

March 15, 2016
New research has found the successful end to the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa was due to a coordinated response and the accepted traditional measures of control used in past outbreaks.

Canadian researcher maybe exposed in lab to Ebola

November 8, 2016
A researcher at Canada's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg was "potentially exposed" to the Ebola virus, authorities announced Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Alcohol consumption and metabolic factors act together to increase the risk of severe liver disease

November 22, 2017
A new study provides insights into the interaction between alcohol consumption and metabolic factors in predicting severe liver disease in the general population. The findings, which are published in Hepatology, indicate ...

Gastric acid suppressant lansoprazole may target tuberculosis

November 21, 2017
A cheap and widely used drug, used to treat conditions such as heartburn, gastritis and ulcers, could work against the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB), according to new research from UCL and the London School of Hygiene ...

Improving prediction accuracy of Crohn's disease based on repeated fecal sampling

November 21, 2017
Researchers at the University of California San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) have found that sampling the gut microbiome over time can provide insights that are not available with a single time point. The ...

Anti-malaria drug shows promise as Zika virus treatment

November 17, 2017
A new collaborative study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and UC San Diego School of Medicine has found that a medication used to prevent and treat malaria may also be effective ...

Decrease in sunshine, increase in Rickets

November 17, 2017
A University of Toronto student and professor have teamed up to discover that Britain's increasing cloudiness during the summer could be an important reason for the mysterious increase in Rickets among British children over ...

Scientists identify biomarkers that indicate likelihood of survival in infected patients

November 17, 2017
Scientists have identified a set of biomarkers that indicate which patients infected with the Ebola virus are most at risk of dying from the disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.