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Ecologists detect warning signals of malaria outbreak

Ecology professor John Drake discusses research with then-Honors undergraduate student Mallory Harris, who is lead author on this malaria study, along with student Aditya Krisnaswamy. Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA taken in 2017 Researchers at the University of Georgia have demonstrated that disease surveillance data can be used to predict certain infectious disease outbreaks. The team detected early warning signals of a 1993 resurgence of malaria in Kenya in case reports from the roughly 10 years before the outbreak began. Their findings appear in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters .

The study was based on a theoretical framework for a disease forecasting system being developed by Distinguished Research Professor John Drake and his colleagues at the UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases. It relies on the theory of “critical slowing down,” which predicts that telltale statistical patterns appear when a system under stress is nearing a tipping point—a point at which it changes irrevocably from one state to another.

Tipping points occur in all kinds of systems, from financial markets to Earth’s climate. In the case of infectious diseases, it is the point at which conditions become favorable for an outbreak to occur.

“A tipping point is when something about […]

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