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Artificial intelligence can increase preparedness for tropical diseases

Artificial intelligence can increase preparedness for tropical diseases

With the help of artificial intelligence and mathematical models of travel patterns, the spread of severe infectious diseases in Europe can be predicted. The calculations could facilitate measures against new infections, shows a thesis at Umeå University.

In line with global warming, new infections could gain a foothold in Europe. Therefore, it will be increasingly important to predict how and where infectious diseases spread.

– Many serious diseases are about to reach many countries in Europe when the climate changes and we also travel more. Dia Farooq, a doctoral student at Umeå University, says arriving at forecasts creates scope for making decisions about healthcare capacity and measures needed to limit the spread of the disease.

Models for better preparedness

In their thesis, Zia Farooq and colleagues present a model that can predict the spread of infectious diseases.

The method is based on applications of artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms and mathematical modeling. Through this method, data on disease incidence, climate and environment can be combined with information on demography, travel and trade.

An example of this is Nile fever. The spread of viral diseases through animal hosts is due to climate change with higher temperatures, longer springs and drier winters. If countermeasures are not taken, the risk of Nile fever spreading in Europe may increase fivefold. If the disease reaches the northern parts of Western Europe, 244 million people could end up in the danger zone, according to the researchers.

The thesis shows that the prediction model was able to predict the last Nile fever outbreak in Europe in 2018 with good accuracy.

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Dengue fever is on the rise

Another viral disease is dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes and can cause high fever, severe pain, and life-threatening consequences. Dengue fever was previously considered a tropical disease, but it is now spreading in Europe as a result of increased travel and climate change.

In his thesis, Zia Farooq shows that the importation of dengue virus via infected travelers during the period 2015-2019 increased by more than 500 percent compared to twenty years ago.

Importing the virus requires the presence of certain types of mosquitoes in Europe that can transmit dengue fever between humans, which occurs when average temperatures rise. The possibility of dengue spreading in this way also means an increased risk of other viral diseases that spread under similar conditions, for example Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.

– Of course, it is very important to reduce emissions and limit climate change. But we may not be able to completely escape the problem because climate change is already happening. Therefore, it is important that we have the tools to prepare for the challenges of climate dependency and emerging infectious diseases, says Zia Farooq.


Dealing with epidemics: by leveraging data science and data-driven modelingUmeå University.