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Flu Outbreaks Predicted With Weather Forecast Techniques

Scientists at Columbia University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have announced a new system that adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to generate local forecasts of seasonal influenza outbreaks. By predicting the timing and severity of the outbreaks, the system can eventually help health officials and the general public better prepare for them. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Homeland Security. NCAR's sponsor is the National Science Foundation. From year to year, and region to region, there is huge variability in the peak of flu season, which can arrive in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere as early as October or as late as April. The new forecast system can provide “a window into what can happen week to week as flu prevalence rises and falls,” says lead author Jeffrey Shaman, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

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