Thu, Apr 12, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Centers for Disease Control unveils new system to predict seasonal flu outbreaks

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) yesterday announced the launch of an influenza forecast Web site that uses big data to predict flu outbreak trends over the next four weeks.

Flu epidemics are difficult to predict because the flu virus mutates constantly and transmission can be affected by weather conditions or crowd movements, especially during holidays, the CDC said, adding that it has teamed up with Acer Inc to use artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analyses to improve prediction capabilities.

The new flu forecast Web site, fluforecast.cdc.gov.tw, collects the latest statistics data from the CDC’s flu-like illness monitoring system, the National Health Insurance database, and the latest government “open data” on the weather and population distribution, CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said.

The collected data are analyzed and simulated by AI learning technology to predict possible flu epidemics, allowing health authorities and the public to take precautions, he said.

“Fear comes from the unknown and if the public can learn of [the flu trends] in advance and prevent them together, the collective disease prevention efforts are more likely to succeed,” Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said.

The system symbolizes the dawn of a new era, he said.

The system’s margin of error would be below 10 percentage points, which is more accurate than an about 20 percentage point margin of similar systems used in other nations.

Acer founder and honorary chairman Stan Shih (施振榮) said the system, which can become a global model, is made possible because Taiwan has National Health Insurance and real-time open data for analysis.

Shih said he knows the importance of predicting possible seasonal flu trends, because he has eight grandchildren, and whenever one of them catches the flu they cannot attend a family reunion.

He hopes the system can help parents and schools take preventive measures, he added.

In related news, Chen yesterday said government-funded flu vaccines for the new flu season in October would be trivalent vaccines.

The vaccines have been purchased and quadrivalent vaccines might be introduced in 2022, but the issue needs to be discussed, Chen said.

Chen in January said that quadrivalent vaccines would be used for the peak season, but last month said that the CDC’s specialists meeting decided to continue using trivalent vaccines this year, prompting some legislators to ask the Ministry of Health and Welfare to reconsider the decision over quadrivalent vaccines’ perceived wider protection against viruses.

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