A technique commonly used to predict the weather can now provide some insight into the peaks of influenza season up to 7 weeks in advance, thanks to the combined efforts of Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, of Columbia University and Alicia Karspeck, PhD, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Research results show the system can predict the timing and severity of seasonal influenza outbreaks more than 7 weeks in advance. Confidence in those predictions can be inferred from the spread of the forecast ensemble. “This work represents an initial step in the development of a statistically rigorous system for real-time forecast of seasonal influenza,” according to the authors.

The availability of real-time, Web-based estimates of local influenza infection rates makes this type of quantitative forecasting possible, wrote the authors.