Forecasting Seasonal Influenza Fusing Digital Indicators and a Mechanistic Disease Model
The availability of novel digital data streams that can be used as proxy for monitoring infectious disease incidence is ushering in a new era for real-time forecast approaches to disease spreading. Here, we propose the first seasonal influenza forecast framework based on a stochastic, spatially structured mechanistic model (individual level microsimulation) initialized with geo-localized microblogging data. The framework provides for more than 600 census areas in the United States, Italy and Spain, the initial conditions for a stochastic epidemic computational model that generates an ensemble of forecasts for the main indicators of the epidemic season: peak time and intensity. We evaluate the forecasts accuracy and reliability by comparing the results with the data from the official influenza surveillance systems in the US, Italy and Spain in the seasons 2014/15 and 2015/16. In all countries studied, the proposed framework provides reliable results with leads of up to 6 weeks that became more stable and accurate with progression of the season. The results for the United States have been generated in real-time in the context of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ``Forecasting the Influenza Season Challenge''. A characteristic feature of the mechanistic modeling approach is in the explicit estimate of key epidemiological parameters relevant for public health decision-making that cannot be achieved with statistical models that do not consider the disease dynamic. Furthermore, the presented framework allows the fusion of multiple data streams in the initialization stage and can be enriched with census, weather and socioeconomic data.