Our team's focus is on the recognition of infectious disease event signature patterns. Note the emphasis on recognition, implying a human has come to realize the importance of a pattern of social stress related to an outbreak... a pattern that may highlight the unusual.
The importance of being able to recognize the unusual pattern is revealed when attempting to provide early warning of influenza pandemics, the emergence of novel pathogens, laboratory accidents involving transmissible pathogens that have escaped into the surrounding community, or acts of biological terrorism. This is a crucial toolset for monitoring Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention compliance, for example.
We have pointed out it is crucial for an analyst to be adept at signature processing... otherwise, we will continue to see report of unexpected public health crises that were later found to have actually begun months prior to first public notice.
Depending on the type of pathogen involved, epidemics are associated with an incredible array of indicators of medical, public health, and general socio-economic stress. These indicators exhibit different temporal patterns, depending on whether it is a "first contact" presentation or a routinely encountered disease in a given country. Different pathogens produce different patterns that are recognizable to the astute analyst. We have learned that a pathogen may be reliably recognized by an analyst without the need for traditional epidemiological data based on its associated indicator pattern.
We have been forecasting the appearance of a multitude of pathogens for several years now in various operational environments. Recently, we activated an automated capability able to reduce what took us millions of dollars in human labor and months of time down to a few thousand dollars and seconds. One of the key features is an ability to forecast an entire event signature library for a pathogen.
For example, below is a forecast library for Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Uganda, which reached an IDIS Category 5 (i.e. disaster conditions) during that country's first contact / recognition of the pathogen in 2000. These examples are but a small sample set of indicators, broken down by (a) proxy indicators of an Ebola outbreak, (b) medical countermeasures (e.g. isolation of patients), (c) public health countermeasures (e.g. quarantine), and (d) public response (e.g. avoidance of infected victims).
As we have pointed out several times here in Operational Biosurveillance, it is to the analyst's advantage to anticipate the entire signature pattern of an infectious disease event before it happens. Pattern anticipation is an important component of priming one to recognize an unusual or unexpected pattern.