Crowdsourcing data to mitigate epidemics

Gabriel M Leung and Kathy Leung at The Lancet: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread with unprecedented speed and scale since the first zoonotic event that introduced the causative virus—severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—into humans, probably during November, 2019, according to phylogenetic analyses suggesting the most recent common ancestor of the sequenced genomes emerged between Oct 23, and Dec 16, 2019. The reported cumulative number of confirmed patients worldwide already exceeds 70 000 in almost 30 countries and territories as of Feb 19, 2020, although that the actual number of infections is likely to far outnumber this case count.

During any novel emerging epidemic, let alone one with such magnitude and speed of global spread, a first task is to put together a line list of suspected, probable, and confirmed individuals on the basis of working criteria of the respective case definitions. This line list would allow for quick preliminary assessment of epidemic growth and potential for spread, evidence-based determination of the period of quarantine and isolation, and monitoring of efficiency of detection of potential cases. Frequent refreshing of the line list would further enable real-time updates as more clinical, epidemiological, and virological (including genetic) knowledge become available as the outbreak progresses….

We surveyed different and varied sources of possible line lists for COVID-19 (appendix pp 1–4). A bottleneck remains in carefully collating as much relevant data as possible, sifting through and verifying these data, extracting intelligence to forecast and inform outbreak strategies, and thereafter repeating this process in iterative cycles to monitor and evaluate progress. A possible methodological breakthrough would be to develop and validate algorithms for automated bots to search through cyberspaces of all sorts, by text mining and natural language processing (in languages not limited to English) to expedite these processes.In this era of smartphone and their accompanying applications, the authorities are required to combat not only the epidemic per se, but perhaps an even more sinister outbreak of fake news and false rumours, a so-called infodemic…(More)”.