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Technology may not be helpful with tracking Zika virus

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared the Zika virus a global health emergency and now hospitals are on alert and prepping for any incoming cases, and the public is being informed of symptoms and proper precautions to take.

Although technology helped in tracking the spread of Ebola with an Ebola reporting app, the Zika virus is a health problem for which technology may not be as helpful when it comes to tracking and building predictive models, a DC Inno article reported.

With the Ebola virus, the CDC was able to build a mobile application called the Epi Info viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) application. The app enables people to input information related to individuals who have been exposed to the contagious disease, including information such as names, gender, age, location, patient status and case classification. Ultimately, this allowed for easier and rapid delivery of patient reports that included location and condition information, the article said. This, in turn, enabled organizations like the WHO to build more accurate predictive data models.

But tracking people and tracking mosquitoes are two totally different issues.

First, they are two vastly different viruses that result in varying symptoms and outcomes for those who are infected. The biggest difference between the two viruses is how they are spread among humans. Ebola is spread through human contact while, in most cases, Zika is spread by mosquito bites. Either way, they are both headline-setting viruses that have affected and are affecting large numbers of people. Therefore, forecasting the viruses spread is critical.

The “CDC is working on modeling activities,” Candice Hoffmann, a press officer with the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told DC Inno. “However the limited amount of available data on Zika virus infection makes this challenging.”

Zika symptoms are difficult to spot and sometimes don’t even appear in some patients. Therefore, reliable reporting usually lags behind regional outbreaks, the story said. As a result, models can’t be accurately updated even though technology is more available in the Americas, where the Zika virus is most prevalent right now, than there is in West Africa where Ebola was most widespread.

Ronald Klein, the lead coordinator for the U.S. response to the Ebola epidemic and known as the “Ebola Czar”, also told DC Inno that no matter how advanced the software, the models generated are only as good as the data reports that are inputted to create them.

Modeling for viruses passed from human to human involves the surveillance of things like traditional transportation avenues, while modeling for mosquito-based viruses is dominated by trends like species-specific migratory patterns and regional ecosystems, the article said.

“This type of tracing [within the Ebola app] is not helpful for a vector-borne disease, as [the Zika virus] is spread by mosquitoes and not people,” Hoffman told DC Inno.