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New data tools on how infectious diseases spread

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The European Science Foundation (ESF) has called for development of new mathematical and statistical tools capable of probing deeper into existing databases relating to human contact and pathogens.The lack of tools was highlighted in a recent ESF workshop on infectious disease transmission. “One of the most exciting conclusions we came to was the realization that vast amounts of information were already available in various data banks,” said Mirjam Kretzschmar, convenor of the ESF workshop, from the Medical Centre at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.These databanks hold wide-ranging information relating to the contact networks of people with various diseases, identifying the pattern of transmission, and also the genotype (total genetic sequence) of the associated pathogens, which could be bacteria or viruses, and potentially in future protozoa or micro fungi.The ESF workshop highlighted the great challenge involved in bringing all this data together, and drawing the correct conclusions from it. “It is clear now that methods are still lacking to unlock the knowledge that is immersed in these data,” said Kretzschmar. “In particular we need to bridge different disciplines to meet this challenge of handling increasingly large amounts of systematically collected genetic sequence data.”The point here is that particular pathogens such as the influenza virus as identified by their genotype can have different transmission patterns

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