The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa has sparked discussions about how to prevent outbreaks of potentially fatal infectious diseases. Researchers from the Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Cambridge, suggest improving global surveillance of infectious diseases as a possible solution. Surveillance in this context describes collecting and analysing information directly relevant to human health, which would allow early detection of potential disease outbreaks.
The authors suggest global surveillance that integrates data from many sources, such as demographic, public health, location, movement, and animal distribution data, is key for monitoring and responding to possible outbreaks of infectious diseases. They call for open sharing of data, as well as developing an international network to assist in such scenarios.
The recent review, published in Science Translational Medicine, emphasises on how the incredible advances in science and technology over the last few decades facilitate our understanding of diseases. Powerful machines allow fast genome sequencing of viruses, such as HIV and Ebola, to provide information about their possible resistance to drugs. More sophisticated models of how a disease might progress could also contribute to more efficient disease outbreak management. These models can now include a number of factors, thus painting a more accurate picture of disease progression.
When dealing with a possible disease outbreak, underestimating how many people are infected could compromise the way the disease is dealt with. It is important to recognise this problem, as well as the fact that not all regions of the world have adequate resources for surveillance. Point-of-care (POC) tests allow the rapid and specific detection of a pathogen and to help predict the pattern of the outbreak.
The new technologies that are available in our modern society and the data they allow us to gather provide an opportunity for better management of infectious disease outbreaks.